Lifestyle blood bag

Published on June 11th, 2013 | by Joe Starks

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Fitness Jargonbuster: Blood Doping

First of all let’s make it clear: Blood doping is illegal for a good reason. Sadly, it is extremely common among professional athletes to resort to such things to attain glory the wrong way, when they feel there is no other way to attain it. It is extremely potent in improving endurance athlete’s performance, but it can also ruin careers forever in more than one way. But what is blood doping really? What does it do for you, both good and bad? Why is it illegal? Let’s answer these logical questions with simple facts.

What is blood doping?

Blood doping refers to a handful of methods through which your blood becomes able to carry more oxygen to your muscles. Muscles need oxygen for aerobic metabolism, which is the type of metabolism used in endurance sports, like marathon running and long distance cycling (for instance in the tour de France). There are many methods through which you can improve your blood’s ability to carry oxygen.

Oxygen is carried by the red blood cells so one of the oldest and most common methods used to perform blood doping is to transfuse blood into the athlete a few hours or a day before an event. That blood can be the athlete’s own blood, which is then called an autologous transfusion. In autologous transfusions you take some of the athlete’s blood a few weeks earlier and transfuse it into them again soon before the sports event.

In homologous transfusions the athlete receives somebody else’s blood instead.

As soon as EPO became available on the market it was immediately used for blood doping. EPO is a hormone naturally produced by the kidneys, which increases the body’s production of red blood cells, usually after a person has lost blood. If used on a healthy person the increase of red blood cells is abnormally large and the person’s ability to carry oxygen to his or her muscles is increased

There are chemicals that can carry oxygen without the use of red blood cells. Two examples are HBOCs (hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers) and PFCs (perfluorocarbons). The sad thing is that both EPO and the oxygen carrying chemicals are actually highly beneficial treatments used in medicine in emergency situations, where a person suffers from anemia or blood loss.

What does blood doping do to you?

We already mentioned the obvious result of blood doping, which is the increase of your ability to carry oxygen in your blood. However, this is not the only effect blood doping has on an athlete’s body. There are terrible side-effects to this illicit behavior that many do not know about; not even those who do it most of the time. Most of the side-effects are of a medical nature, while some are social.

The medical side-effects of blood doping are:

  • Increased blood viscosity. Your blood of course becomes thicker when you add more cells or chemicals to it. This can cause terrible side effects on its own as a thicker blood is more prone to clotting and causing heart attacks.
  • Myocardial infractions or commonly known as a heart attack. The blood vessels that feed the heart are very delicate and crucial to our survival. Because they are so thin at some point it is very easy for them to become blocked, which then leads to heart ischemia (lack of blood feeding the heart) and the heart’s death (soon followed by the person’s death usually).
  • Pulmonary embolism. Embolism is when an object or air blocks a blood vessel. These substances can be fat, blood particles or air. When embolism happens in the pulmonary artery you have a pulmonary embolism.
  • You can also get cerebral embolism, which is a substance or a clot formed elsewhere blocking a blood vessel which feeds the brain.
  • Stroke. Increasing your blood’s oxygen capacity can lead to a stroke, due to the change in your blood’s consistency.
  • Infections. Blood doping can cause infections to set in, whether it is because of the incorrect use of needles, the lack of blood for a while during autologous blood doping or the excess use of chemicals. You are at higher risk of blood related diseases being contracted like hepatitis B/C and you might have allergic reactions.

There are serious social consequences to blood doping. If you are caught you probably will see the end of your career right there and any medals you might have won while doped or not can be taken from you. Instead of glory you gain eternal shame, which is the opposite of any sportsman’s dream. Your confidence as an athlete drops if you wonder how much of your achievements was your own strength and how much came from your doping. The empowering feeling an athlete should enjoy is taken away from them due to the doping. The risks are simply not worth the reward, because simply not all who dope win. Many lose badly in more way than one.

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