Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) today announced that its instruments and expertise contributed to a groundbreaking study commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA.

Researchers at Freie Universität Berlin used gas and liquid chromatography instruments, along with high-resolution mass spectrometry systems—all from Agilent—to study to the strength-building characteristics of ecdysterone, the main component of spinach extracts.

The study, which included researchers in Berlin, Cologne, Rome, and Sydney, found that the substance has a strong effect on muscle cells—stronger, in fact, than anabolic androgenic steroids, which are prohibited in sports. Performance in exercises increased significantly in comparison to a control group.

Professor Maria Parr, who specializes in pharmaceutical analytics and metabolism at Freie Universität Berlin, is among the researchers who recommend that ecdysterone be added to WADA’s list of substances it prohibits athletes from using. Additionally, she and her team have developed LC/MS/MS and GC/MS methods to enable doping-control laboratories to integrate ecdysterone into their testing procedures.

"Most of the work in finding ecdysterone in spinach and spinach extracts, quantitating the contents, purifying metabolites, and so on has been done with Agilent instruments," said Bernhard Wüst, Agilent’s global marketing manager for sports doping.

Wüst lent his expertise in mass spectrometry and metabolite identification to the project.

He notes that the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor (popular in the 1960s) was right to eat spinach for strength, but that a person would have to eat up to 4 kilograms of spinach per day for ten weeks to consume the same amount as one of the low-dose athletes in the study.

A short video about the study, "Popeye was right" is available here:

Freie Universität Berlin summarized the study here: