Cobalt in athletes: hypoxia and doping - new crossroads
Cobalt is an essential trace element that is known to mimic hypoxia and hypoxic training. Inorganic Co compounds are capable of Hypoxiainducible factor-1 (HIF-1) activation, resulting in up-regulation of gene expression including erythropoietin (Epo). Experimental studies have demonstrated that Co treatment may increase hypoxic tolerance of different tissues, improve muscle metabolism and exercise performance. Other mechanisms may also involve modulation of steroid hormone and iron metabolism. Based on these experimental studies, in 2017 inorganic cobalt compounds were added into the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list as doping agents. However, the existing data on beneficial effects of cobalt on exercise performance in athletes are scarce. Similarly, only experimental studies demonstrated exercise-induced decrease in tissue Co levels, whereas human data are inconsistent. In addition, multiple studies have demonstrated that excessive Co intake may be toxic due to prooxidant, proinflammatory, and proapoptotic activity. Therefore, monitoring of Co deficiency and overload is required to prevent potential health hazards in athletes. At the same time, modulation of Co status should be performed through supplementation avoiding excessive doses of inorganic cobalt that are used for doping and are accompanied by adverse health effects of metal toxicity.