This Month in Journals: Managing Risks from Sun and Weight Loss; More Inhaler Fights

Chelsea LittleNovember 4, 2013

Welcome back to This Month in Journals, where we read the latest exercise and sports science and pull out some research that might be of interest to skiers.

Don't forget this stuff! Photo: Robert S. Donovan/creative commons.
Don’t forget this stuff! Photo: Robert S. Donovan/creative commons.

* Young skiers, watch out: a new study in Phytochemical and Phytobiological Sciences reports that skiing exposes you to enough UV radiation from the sun to potentially cause skin cancer. As most skiers are aware, sunlight reflects off the snow and creates an even bigger risk than if you were out hiking on a nice summer day. If you happen to be skiing at altitude, the sun is even stronger. It feels good on your face, but the study hammers a point home: slather up with sunscreen, especially kids!

Children have skin that is both thinner and more sensitive to UV radiation, wrote Dr. Maria-Antonia Serrano and colleagues. They also cited that about a quarter of a person’s lifetime UV dose comes during childhood, and that the earlier in life this happens, the more time there is to develop skin cancer. Melanoma, responsible for 80% of skin cancer deaths, is primarily caused by sun damage.

To see just how much sun kids are exposed to when skiing, Serrano and her colleagues placed dosimeters on their shoulders when they headed out for four days of alpine skiing in the Pyrenees. The doses received varied based on cloud cover during different days at the ski school, as well as how active the children were and how much time they spent outside.

On several days, the children received closed to the minimal erythema dose, or the minimum amount of radiation required to create a sunburn, for multiple European skin types. Depending on how strong the sun was each day and what the cloud cover looked like, children staying out for between 90 minutes and 2 hours could reach that dose. In the ski school, they were outside for more like four or five hours.

The authors wrote that the part of the body bearing the brunt of this burning was the face – but for cross country skiers, there’s likely more risk. As an active sport, cross country skiers generate more body heat and are more likely to be out skiing in a t-shirt if it’s sunny and not too cold. So the sunscreen message might be expanded: put on sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher, write the authors), and especially on your kids. Perhaps encouraging long sleeves even when the weather gets warm in the spring would be a plus, too.

* In a different sort of risk, the IOC Medical Commission has released guidelines for athletes in weight-sensitive sports – and they place cross-country skiing and ski jumping in this category. The Ad Hoc Research Working Group on Body Composition, Health and Performance agreed on a consensus statement, or recommendations based on synthesis of all existing research. The guidelines, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, notes that athletes in these sports are at risk for developing extreme diets or eating disorders as they try to stay light.

Yet the effects of this behavior are usually not conducive to good athletic performance. Among the panel’s recommendations are to make sure that athletes are well-educated about nutrition and body composition, so that they see that losing too much weight can mean losing strength, too, and that their bodies are something to be taken care of.

The panel also suggested that all weight-sensitive sports adopt the “no-start” guidelines used by the Norwegian Olympic Training Center. These guidelines prevent an athlete from competing if they lose too much weight and offer an incentive to stay at a healthy body composition; they recently kept star skier Kristin Størmer Steira off the World Cup. At the time, coaches said that Steira respected the competition ban and it helped her get back on track.

If you’re interested in a copy of the guidelines, e-mail Chelsea [AT]

* The battle rages on about whether, and how, beta-2 agonists are performance enhancing. The class of drugs is commonly used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); if you have an inhaler, that’s likely what’s in it. They are banned from international competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency, except with a therapeutic use exemption justified by a doctor. Marit Bjørgen uses one of these inhalers, which has created controversy in the past.

Now, an international team of scientists has published a review in Clinica Chemica Acta reporting on new b-2 agonists in development and their implications on doping. The paper, which cites 139 other reports, reports that researchers are able to add unique modifications onto older drugs, like salbutamol, clenbuterol, and salmeterol, three of the most common asthma inhaler medicines.

Many of these new drugs are being developed for good purposes: to fight asthma and COPD even more aggressively. However, the authors write that it is “not improbable in the near future” that they will also be used for doping. This is a problem, since as the number of different compounds proliferates, more and more unique tests must be developed to detect them. Given the amount of money it takes to develop tests and the skill required to do so, it seems unlikely that anti-doping testing can keep up.

* A lot of sports science focuses on helping athletes prepare and compete well, and understanding why they do or don’t – but what about the people helping the athletes? A recent study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports turned the lens on coaches, and examined whether unhealthy stress affects their performance.

Coaching can be exhausting and frustrating, noted Dr. Joanne Hudson and her two fellow British co-authors, and can lead to burnout. “Regardless of the effect on the athlete, Thelwell et al. recently commented that, ‘coaches should be classified as performers in their own right’ and, there are significant potential health costs of the psychological stress experienced by coaches,” they wrote in their introduction.

Unlike previous studies which have used surveys of coaches, Dr. Hudson and her colleagues followed ten team-sport coaches over the course of a competition day and assessed them before, during, and after the competitions. They both asked questions and collected saliva samples to look at alpha amylase, an enzyme which reacts to both physiological and psychological stress.

First, the team found that there was, indeed, more alpha amylase in the coaches’ saliva on competition days than on non-competition days.

Looking at the psychological data, the researchers found that many kinds of stress – internal and external, effort and tension – were more prevalent on competition days. So were unpleasant emotions and arousal, defined in psychology as being alert and reactive. There were connections with the alpha amylase, too: for instance, at the beginning of the competition, coaches had more pleasant emotions. But as these were replaced with unpleasant ones, alpha amylase rose.

Despite all of this, the coaches’ metamotivational states (a long word for what motivates them and their behavior) for the most part stayed the same throughout a match. If a coach started out “telic”, or serious and motivated by achievement, they mostly stayed in that state. In three cases, between halftime and the end of the game, coaches switched from “mastery” to “sympathy”, which are exactly what they sound like: controlling versus compassionate.

With such a small sample size, the team couldn’t evaluate whether these patterns were related to the outcome of the competition. This would be particularly interesting for the increase in unpleasant emotions, which the researchers were surprised to see so prevalent.

Regardless, the authors believe that it’s worthwhile to educate coaches about these issues and give them tools to stay calm, focused, and positive – and to avoid a lot of harmful stress.

Chelsea Little

Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.

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