In sports, blood doping is the latest craze. In an effort to stay competitive and strong, athletes everywhere are looking for that hidden edge. The effort to circumvent the rules could mean millions of dollars and celebrity recognition. However, if you get caught, the price you pay is just as high. Lance Armstrong is the face of blood doping. He did everything possible to gain an edge in winning 7 straight Tour de France tournaments, win celebrity endorsements, get name recognition and eventually become the face of cheating.
What is Blood Doping?
Blood doping is the act of increasing the amount of red blood cells in your body to improve athletic performance. So now you wondering how this works? Let’s begin with the fact that red blood cells carry oxygen to your muscles and lungs. The oxygen feeds the fibers in your muscles when contracting and help them not get tired. The more oxygen available, the more you can exercise and the longer your endurance. Every person has a natural limit for the amount of oxygen your body can transport and deliver. If you can exceed this limit, you just have achieved an edge.
There are two ways to perform blood doping: homologous and autologous. Homologous means that you get the blood cells of a donor with the same blood type, harvest the red blood cells, freeze them and reintroduce them into your system before the sporting event. Reintroduction is performed through a blood transfusion or direct injection. Autologous blood doping is when you take your own blood, harvest the red blood cells, freeze them and reintroduce them into your system.
Are There Side Effects?
As with any procedure, there are side effects to blood doping. If you harvest your own blood, you can become anemic since you are removing blood from your system. Anemia increases heart rate, sweating, paling of the skin and other heart issues. Now when you perform a blood transfusion or injection, you open yourself up to infection. On top of that, if you don’t store your blood cells properly, you can create a massive infection that can result in organ shutdown including possible death. As an additional side effect, if you store blood in plastic containers, the plastic will leach out into the blood and contaminate your body. This contamination can result in kidney damage since they are difficult to filter out.
As everyone is aware, there are ways to get caught since technology evolves as the blood doping gets more complex. First, there are blood tests that basically count the amount of red cells your body has (HCT). A typical male adult has an HCT of about 40%-50% while a female adult has 36%-44%. Anything outside the range sends up a red flag for possible blood doping. Secondly, your body can be tested for EPO which is a naturally occurring hormone for production of red blood cells. Hormones in your body have a natural balance, anything too high and cheating is suspected.
Another way to suspect doping is to check for certain markers in your blood’s surface that can detect if more than one type of blood is in your body. It is a dead give away. Then there is always the check for plasticizers which are a result of blood being stored in IV bags. The plastic of IV bags will leak out into your blood when stored in these bags. Once you perform a blood transfusion, these chemicals enter your blood stream before your your kidneys can filter them out.
Is the effort to cheat worth it?