EPO stands for Erythropoetin which is a glycoprotein hormone that controls red blood cell production in the bone marrow. It is a hormone released by your kidneys. EPO isn’t used to directly increase muscle mass but to increase endurance.
So how does EPO work? Erythropoetin begins in your kidneys when your body is signaled that it needs more red blood cells. EPO is then released into your system and targets your bone marrow to start production of red blood cells. Your bone marrow begins production of red blood cells and releases them into your blood stream. Red blood cells are very important for your circulatory system since they bring oxygen from your lungs into your cells. They also remove waste products from your cells such as carbon dioxide.
Oxygen is a very important fuel for your muscles to perform their functions. With a lack of oxygen, your muscles become fatigued and tired. This means you can run faster, workout longer, pedal longer and overall outperform your opponent.
In sports, EPO is an illegal advantage for the athlete. In the 1990’s, EPO was not able to be detected because it was a natural occuring hormone in the blood. Today, you can detect the levels of EPO accurately which is why athletes are getting caught left and right. There is a price to pay when you try to outsmart the delicate balance your body maintains everyday.
Firstly, increasing you red blood cell count increases the thickness of your blood. Increasing the thickness of blood causes your heart and body to work harder to pump blood and oxygen around. Now, if you have cholesterol (plaque build-up), this will cause a clot to occur or thrombosis due to your thick blood. Once you have a clot, you increase your chances of stroke and finally you increase your chances of heart attacks. All of this for an edge.
The good thing is that the excess blood cells are absorbed by the body quickly (~12 hours) but the effects do linger for a couple of weeks. Your brain has been known to increase EPO production when the body is injured to help with the healing process. Do you feel the risks of EPO are worth it?