New study by UO researchers suggests allergy medication may hinder athletic performance

Spring in Eugene can be a difficult season for people allergic to pollen. Eugene is considered one of the most active cities in the nation in terms of pollen count. Those who fall victim to seasonal allergies may stock up on antihistamines such as Allegra and Zyrtec in order to battle the debilitating symptoms.

A recent study conducted by current and former University of Oregon researchers shows that common allergy medications — medically known as antihistamines — may have a negative effect on the way that skeletal muscles recovers after exercise.

For physically active people sensitive to pollen, antihistamines may be a key element to ensuring that they can perform at their highest level. But what if their muscles don’t recover properly when antihistamines are in their system?

John Halliwill, a leading researcher in post-exercise blood pressure at the UO, is trying to answer that question.

He says that when someone exercises, they activate a certain number of genes in their muscles. This activation is the beginning of a process that creates bigger, stronger muscles. In his research, he found that over a quarter of the genes activated were driven by histamine receptors, the same receptors that allergy medication deactivate.

“[The activation is] that initial step in what eventually helps us become faster, stronger and more fatigue resistant … More than a quarter of those genes were being either driven or modulated by histamine receptors,” Halliwill said.

In the study, 16 test subjects were given three times the standard dose of different antihistamines. The subjects performed leg extensions for 45 minutes and biopsies were performed on their quadriceps before and after exercise.

Immediately after the workout, there was little to no difference in gene expression (the ability of a cell to carryout its function) in the quadriceps. However, three hours after the exercise, researchers found that 88 percent of the genes activated showed dramatically decreased levels of gene expression.

Steven Romero, currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas’ Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, helped lead the study while he was an advanced doctoral student at UO.

“The genes that were highly affected by the antihistamines affect everything from muscle growth to blood vessel growth to blood vessel health,” Romero said.

UO studen, Kevin Zebede, a fitness enthusiast and allergy sufferer, said he is surprised by this data.

“I take Zyrtec or the generic version of that[…]I had no idea that it had any affect on working out,” Zebede said.

Zebede says that while the new data is concerning, it is not necessarily well known and widely talked about enough to make him stop taking any medication.

“I’m not as worried right now because it’s not a huge thing that I’ve heard about a bunch but at the same time, if it’s not good for me it would be beneficial to try something else,” he said.

Halliwill and Romero concluded that it may be too early to tell, but taking antihistamines might only create a noticeable difference in the performance of either world-class athletes or people with severe cases of pollen allergies.

Both agreed that more in-depth studies in the future are needed to confirm this hypothesis.

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Wes Franco

Wes Franco