Sports products you never knew were medicines

Published in Medicinewise Living

Date published: About this date

We often buy products to improve our nutrition, treat injuries and reduce sweating when exercising. But are you aware that what you’re using may actually be a medicine that has both benefits and risks?

Medicines are any substances that are meant to change the way your body deals with illness or injury or to maintain your health and wellbeing. They can also cause side effects and may interact with other medicines and medical conditions to cause health problems.

A lot of people don’t realise that medicines include things such as herbal remedies, vitamins, nutritional supplements, creams and gels. And they don’t just come on prescription or from a pharmacy — you can buy medicines in supermarkets, health food or other stores, and from naturopaths and herbalists.

Being medicinewise with your sports products

No matter what it’s for, where you buy it from or what form it comes in, it’s important to know what you’re using and how it could affect you, and whether it’s the best option for you in the first place.

Five medicinewise steps to ensuring you use medicines safely and effectively — including those contained in sports products — are:

  • Know when it’s a medicine that has both benefits and risks.
  • Check the active ingredient so you can find out what’s in it.
  • Ask the right questions to get the information you need about your health and medicines, using reliable sources such as your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Carefully follow instructions on the label or packaging or those given by your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Tell all health professionals about your other medical conditions and medicines including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines such as herbs and vitamins, so they can check whether a medicine is right for you. You can help keep track of what you’re taking by using an NPS Medicines List.

Antiperspirants are different to deodorants

Antiperspirants contain active ingredients (usually aluminium salts) that block sweat ducts in the skin to reduce the amount that you sweat. A deodorant on the other hand only masks the odours associated with sweating.

You may use a roll-on, spray or powder containing an antiperspirant to enable you to exercise comfortably or protect your footwear, particularly if you have hyperhidrosis (a condition which causes excessive sweating).

But you can get side effects with these products, especially those with higher concentrations of aluminium (e.g. 20%). Aluminium salts in antiperspirants can cause skin irritation, redness, swelling, itching, and allergic contact dermatitis. Other chemicals often included in products, such as fragrances, preservatives and dyes, may also cause skin problems for some people.

Side effects are more likely the higher the concentration of aluminium in the antiperspirant. But you may also be at greater risk, for example, if you already have sensitive skin, a skin allergy or another condition such as eczema.

Rubs for sprains and strains are medicines too

Various creams, ointments, gels, liquids and sprays can be bought over the counter for muscular and other soft tissue injuries. They usually contain active ingredients that have a warming or cooling effect (e.g. eucalyptus oil or menthol) or reduce pain, inflammation and swelling (e.g. a salicylate or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug [NSAID], like diclofenac).

These products are generally safe and once their active ingredients are absorbed into the skin only small amounts get into our bloodstream. But there is still a chance that this can cause health problems, especially if they:

  • Are not used as directed, particularly if you use too much
  • Interact with another medicine you take
  • Are used by people with certain health conditions.

For example, even small amounts of salicylates or NSAIDs that get into the blood can trigger asthma symptoms in some people with asthma, and can interact with blood thinning medicines like warfarin to increase the chance of you bleeding. Problems like side effects are also more likely to occur if you use more than product containing a salicylate or NSAID at the same time.

You might also experience skin irritation, redness, itching or rash when using these products, and they sometimes make your skin more likely to burn in the sun.

Check what’s in your sports supplement

Thousands of supplements are available for use in sport — these may contain a range of active ingredients also found in medicines, such as vitamins, minerals, caffeine, herbs, even glucosamine, fish oils and probiotics.

Find out what’s in your sports supplement and ask your doctor or pharmacist to check if it’s suitable for you. Certain active ingredients in these products may affect your other medical conditions or medicines. For example, calcium and iron can bind to some medicines in the gut to prevent them absorbing properly, and some people are allergic to glucosamine sourced from shellfish.

How medicinewise are you?

Find out more information about your medicines and how to be medicinewise or call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm EST.

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