Maria Sharapova, Pre-Diabetic? Um…

It’s been widely reported that tennis star Maria Sharapova was busted for taking a banned heart medication. What is lesser known is that the drug Sharapova took, meldonium, is actually sometimes prescribed as a diabetes medication.

According to a Forbes report, one of the reasons given for why Sharapova was taking this drug is that she had health indicators that pointed toward prediabetes. Meldonium, like the better known metformin, is supposed to lower glucose resistance, although it’s not often prescribed for it, even in Russia, where Sharapova is from and which is one of the few countries that allows the drug to be prescribed.

It’s believed, however, that this argument isn’t going to pass the straight-face test with tennis world regulators. For one thing, even the company making the drug says it should be prescribed for four to six weeks, and Sharapova has been using the drug for a decade. That also means she began taking the drug at the age of 18. While it is certainly possible for a 18-year-old to have signs of prediabetes, it’s much less likely for a tennis superstar to have signs of Type 2 diabetes, which is what the drug would help treat. If Sharapova were showing signs of Type 1 diabetes, she would have already had it by now and be on insulin therapy, and the meldonium would not have helped.

Sharapova’s defense isn’t working with her sponsors, either, who have dropped her like metformin drops blood sugar in people with prediabetes.

Meldonium is believed to be a performance-enhancing drug that increases blood flow to the heart and an athlete’s ability to endure exercise. As this doping scandal unfolds, it will be interesting to see how many other elite athletes have been suffering in silence for years with heart trouble or prediabetes and have needed to reach for meldonium. Since the scandal broke, seven more Russian athletes have tested positive for the drug, as have athletes from Sweden, Ethiopia and Ukraine, according to a New York Times report.

Editor’s Note – 3/14/2016 – This story has been amended to include an explanation of the purported performance-enhancing qualities of meldonium.

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.

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