The Mystery of Actovegin – by Robbie Dunne

“On this team, we fight for that inch.  On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch.  We claw with our finger nails for that inch.  Cause we know when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the fucking difference between winning and losing.  Between living and dying”.  Tony D’Amato, Any Given Sunday

Robbie Dunne is an Irish former soccer player. Dunne made two appearances for UCD in the 2000 UEFA Intertoto Cup against PFC Velbazhd Kyustendil as the students went out on away goals.

An 800-metre runner cutting a second off their personal best.  Arriving a nanosecond earlier to the ball than your opponent.   Medals are won and lost over such minute distances, careers dismantled or elevated, and athletes lauded or omitted from memory.  So if youwere told you could be given a series of injections to increase your performance and stimulate your body to respond, how would you react.

Said series of injections may or may not have a positive impact on your body.  Possibly it could offer a placebo response within the brain, and in turn the body.  72-year-old doctor, Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, is considered to be the worldwide leader in the treatment of sports injuries and is currently the club doctor of German football champions Bayern Munich.  He also treats the most prolific athletes without  discrimination for their line of work.  Whether it be golfer, Jose Maria Olazabel, or the oft-­injured footballer Johnathan Woodgate, or even the lead singer of arguably the most influential rock band in the world: U2’s Bono.


One of Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt’s high profile patients, U2’s Bono.

Veal’s Blood and Cockerel’s Crest

Actovegin is a carefully administered dose of needles that consists of veal’s blood and cockerel crest, which is the fleshy part of skin on the top of a rooster’s head. It has been in existence for over five decades, and as of 2011 it was illegal to sell, import or use in the United States of America. It’s rise to prominence coincides with the arrest of Anthony Galea in 2009, who was charged with providing performance enhancing drugs. The stigma attached to the drugs stems from Lance Armstrong’s reliance on it. While it may only be taken as a supplement to the more damaging EPO (Erythropoietin), once it started being mentioned alongside names like Armstrong and Galea, conclusions would inevitably be jumped to. But what exactly does it do?

Oxygen tents and horse placenta may be the most famous of quick injury cures, but Actovegin has held it’s own since the 1960’s. It is said to reduce hamstring tear recovery time by up to 70%. The only problem is that nobody really knows how it works, from laymen to scientists.


Stretching like this guy might well help avoid the likes of hamstring injuries. But does Actovegin really help speed up the recovery process?

The Upright spoke with Will Carroll, a man who has held positions such as NFL Injury Expert for and Injury Expert for Bleacher Report and has also worked on ESPN’s The Fantasy Show. But even he is struggling to figure it out. “We have nothing beyond the anecdotal for this specific claim about Actovegin”, Carroll says. He compares it to PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma), which “points to an inflammatory and immune response of the body to it’s own cells.” There is also the theory that it improves absorption of glucose and oxygen uptake in your muscles, and generally improves oxygen transport.

Looking For Logic

However Carroll points out, “this is not supported by studies”. Simply put, with all the technology and sport science available today, the fact is “There is no real evidence that it heals muscle healing.”

So why then do Paula Radcliffe, Usain Bolt and Bayern Munich, use a doctor who swears by Actovegin? The world’s leading administrator of Actovegin has been Muller-Wohlfahrt since 1977 and continues to be to this day.

Is it as simple as a placebo effect? Working as effectively as an actual remedy and having the desired result. Maybe the more fuss made about the product and the more confidence instilled in it is what gives you the placebo. In turn the more effect it can have on your neural state and thus more effect on your biochemical state.

Muller-­Wohlfahrt himself can’t even explain how it works, and it seems he’s content in leaving several questions on the table. The doctor uses solely “homeopathic remedies”. The philosophy surrounding homeopathic remedies states that the body has the ability to heal itself. Maybe it happens to help when a renowned doctor is administering the homeopathic cure to, perhaps, feed the placebo effect in the brain. Maybe.

Banned by the IOC (International Olympic Committee), studies on Actovegin indicate it is simply a drug created to get the blood circulating. The medical technicalities can be broken down quite simply. It doesn’t contain any of the powerful performance enhancing ingredients that you find in EPO, it is simply a drug that can apparently give you a boost.

Being an elite athlete can require being one step ahead of the competition in several key areas. From data and statistics, to medicine and sports science. The top athlete’s who walk through the German doctor’s doors are simply trying to remain at the front of their respective pack. Maybe they don’t ask questions, and maybe they don’t look into the science of it all. There appears to be a trust between the athlete and the doctor that comes from past experience and interactions. Muller­-Wohlfahrt is open about the lack of research done on the mystery that is the product.

Once actovegin keeps having a positive effect on the body of the recipient, then it’s likely it’s here to stay.

See also: Actovegin Prospect

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