Athletic Drug Usage

Each year athlete’s ability to perform seems to increase by leaps and bounds. Athlete’s are running faster, throwing farther, and jumping higher. Some of reasons for this increase can be attributed to better training methods, better conditioning techniques, increased understanding of nutrition and better overall health of the athlete. Generally, these improvements involve one or more of the previously mentioned scenarios, but some athletes always seem to take it a step further. They engage in the non‑ethical practice of taking drugs to build mass and strength or to increase the amount of oxygen that reaches tissues, including protein hormones, artificial oxygen carriers and blood doping. These procedure do increase their athletic ability, however, they potentially may do more harm than good. Predictable

Athletic drug use is becoming more and more common, and with medical advances providing better drugs, the governing bodies are finding it harder to combat their use.

The process of blood doping has been highly debated for it’s ethical, moral, and physical effects on the human performance. It is my intention to discuss the practise of the performance enhancer commonly refereed to as blood doping.

What is Blood Doping?

Blood doping was a concept conceived in 1972 by Dr. Bjorn Ekblom of the Stockholm Institute. It was called induced erythrocythemia, which is Greek for ‘induced surplus of red blood cells’. (1) The term blood doping refers to increasing an athletes aerobic fitness or oxygen intake. (2) Since your red blood cells carry 99% of the oxygen in your blood, anything that can increases the number of red blood cells also increases the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood, thus, improving performance, especially in endurance sports, like cycling and cross country skiing. (3)

Blood doping may involve homologous blood doping, autologous blood doping or holistic blood doping. (2) Homologous blood doping is the process of obtaining blood from either relatives or friends. Whereas autologous blood doping the blood transfused into the individual is their own. (3) Holistic blood doping is the only performance enhancing methods legal in athletic competition. (3) This will be further discussed later in this report.

The Process of Blood Doping

Autologous blood doping can be summarized in two steps:

Approximately six weeks prior to competition an athlete, most likely involved in endurance sports, will withdraw one to four units of their blood (1 unit = 450 ml). (4) Immediately after the blood is extracted, the components of blood are separated using a centrifuge. The plasma portion of blood is separated and re‑infused into the blood stream. The remaining red blood cells are placed in a freezer to sustain their viability. It is important that this procedure is preformed far in advance of the competition so that the body has time to replace the lost red blood cells. (5) It takes the human body approximately six weeks to completely replenish the red blood cells.

Secondly, the red blood cells that had been placed in the cold storage are,re‑infused 1 to 7 days before the event. This provides the body with an increased red blood cell concentration which greatly improves athletic performance and increases the body\'s potential oxygen intake. When this process is performed accurately, an athlete can increase their hemoglobin and red blood cell count by 20%. (4)

Homologous blood doping:

Homologous blood doping is similar to the autologous blood doping process except that the concentrated red blood cells are obtained from people with the same blood type. Other than that the steps taken are identical to that of homologous blood doping.

EPO: The New Blood Doping

A relatively recent product in the deceitful pursuit of glory is the synthetic drug erythropoietin, pronounced, e‑rith‑ro‑poy‑tin, abbreviated EPO. (6) EPO regulates the concentration of red blood cells, and hemoglobin in the blood. It is manufactured naturally by the kidneys during low oxygen conditions to stimulate the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. (7)

Medically speaking, EPO was invented by the corporation Recombinant DNA Techniques for use in patients with disease related anemia. (3) However it increases an individual’s oxygen carrying capacity. It didn’t take long, unfortunately, for the ‘blood doping’ community to begin abusing it.

EPO has put a whole new spin on blood doping. Synthetic EPO, which is administered by injection, is identical to the naturally occurring form. (6)