Extract could help riders cope with heat stress

The recent spat about the advantage offered by polyurethane body suits in swimming shows that athletes will look for any advantage that will help them beat the clock.

And it seems professional cyclists could soon have something to provide them with that little bit extra – and it’s all thanks to the humble honeybee.

A new study has indicated an extract of a honeybee product called propolis holds promise for helping endurance cyclists cope more effectively with the heat stress that develops during long-distance rides. Such heat can diminish an athlete’s performance with fatigue and dehydration.

Propolis is a resinous material that bees fashion from plant saps and use to insulate their hives. A key ingredient in propolis is CAPE – caffeic acid phenethyl ester.

A team of researchers headed by Yu-Jen Chen and Jasson Chiang of the (deep breath - Ed) Chinese Culture University’s Graduate Institute of Sport Coaching Science in Taipei, is now probing CAPE’s potential to protect certain white blood cells.

The researchers recruited 16 men who had been training as endurance cyclists for at least two years, but who had not been training intensively during the four months leading up to the tests. White blood cells were extracted from each man’s blood and then gradually heated up from a healthy 37 °C to a blistering 43 °C.

Some samples were heated on their own and others were incubated with various concentrations of CAPE. Although the blood got really hot, the authors say peak temperatures replicated what can develop in a cyclist’s body.

Heating killed off about 25 percent of the untreated cells, while virtually all of those incubated with CAPE survived the thermal assault, the authors report in the August Journal of Food Science.

This propolis extract’s prowess in shielding an important class of white blood cells from the circulatory equivalent of heat stroke “implies that CAPE might play a role in preventing immunosuppression during an acute endurance exercise such as a bicycling competition,” Chen and Chiang’s team concludes.