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Br J Sports Med. 2004 Dec;38(6):704-8.

Abnormally high serum ferritin levels among professional road cyclists.

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  • 1Laboratoire Suisse d'Analyse du Dopage, Institut Universitaire de Médecine Légale, Lausanne, Switzerland. <>



An international, longitudinal medical follow up examination of male professional road cyclists revealed excessively elevated serum ferritin levels.


To evaluate the importance of elevated ferritin values among professional cyclists, their relationship with age and nationality, and their evolution over 3 years.


Over 1000 serum ferritin values were collected. Other parameters were included in order to exclude conditions which might have increased ferritin levels without changing body iron stores.


In 1999, over 45% of riders displayed ferritin values above 300 ng/ml and one fourth levels over 500 ng/ml. These percentages had decreased to 27% and 9%, respectively, 3 years later, while the overall average, which was above the normal limits in 1999, had decreased by 33% in 3 years. Older cyclists had higher ferritin values than younger cyclists. There was also a relationship between ferritin levels and the nationality of the cyclists. Analysis of 714 riders in 2000 and 2002 showed only a slight and insignificant decrease in the mean ferritin value although those with initially elevated iron stores had a much greater decrease.


Professional road cyclists used excessive iron supplementation leading to high serum ferritin levels correlating with increased body iron stores. Although the situation progressively improved over 3 years, it remains worrying as increased body iron stores are related to health complications. Therefore, prevention in addition to the fight against doping should be a main goal of the UCI. Aggressive therapy for athletes with excessive ferritin values should be carried out at or before the end of their careers.

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