UCL News


UCL In the News: Muscle-rub blamed for athlete's death

11 June 2007

A 17-year-old US athlete died after an overdosing on a common muscle-rub, medical examiners have announced.

Such over-the-counter creams are rubbed into the skin to relieve muscle ache after exercise. They contain an anti-inflammatory ingredient called methyl salicylate - also known as oil of wintergreen - which is toxic if consumed, leading to breathing difficulties and collapse. …

Professor Anthony Dickenson [UCL Pharmacology] explains that methyl salicylate, like aspirin, relieves pain by interfering with molecules called prostaglandins. He says that too much interference with prostaglandins and similar molecules could, for example, lead to dangerous convulsions and nervous-system problems. …

Dickenson adds that sensitivity to these drugs likely varies from person to person: "There are individuals that could just be super-sensitive to the compound due to their genes." …

Roxanne Khamsi, 'New Scientist'