A main controversial issue in todays sports world is ways in which athletes improve their performance. The use of steroids and supplements have been heavily discussed and argued but the method of blood doping is now a major problem. Blood Doping or red blood cell infusion is another example of the ingenious ways in which athletes attempt to improve performance without running into trouble with drug tests. Blood doping has become an integral part of sports and fair play. It enhances your performance by increasing red blood cell mass and thereby delivering more oxygen to the muscles.
This manipulation has gained notoriety in the sports world for what it can do for an athlete during endurance events. Blood doping, often called induced erythrocythemia, is the intravenous infusion of blood to produce an increase in the bloods oxygen carrying capacity.. In order for our muscles to perform, they need a ready supply of oxygen. During high intensity exercise, oxygen becomes depleted and the body cannot get enough oxygen to the muscles in order for them to perform at their optimal potential.
This lack of ability to get oxygen to the muscles is called oxygen debt and results in lactic acid being formed. Lactic acid is a waste product of anaerobic cellular respiration within the muscle tissue, which can cause muscle soreness that is usually felt after a hard or long workout. Fatigue usually sets in with the onset of lactic acid production. Blood doping is a procedure that begins with between 1 to 4 units of a persons blood being withdrawn, usually several weeks before a key competition.
The blood is then centrifuged and the plasma components are immediately reinfused while the remaining red blood cells are placed in cold storage. Over the next several weeks, the athletes bone marrow, stimulated by the loss of the blood, forms more red blood cells and returns the athletes blood volume to normal. The red blood cells are then reinfused back into the body, usually 1 to 7 days before a high endurance event. Creating a surplus of red blood cells. If done correctly, this process can increase the hemoglobin level and red blood cell count by up to 20%.
With these extra blood cells, the athletes blood can carry more oxygen to the muscles. This could theoretically result in more efficient functioning of the muscles and increase performance. Blood doping does have its drawbacks. If the blood used is not from the athlete but from a donor, there is the risk of transmission of hepatitis, AIDS, and other blood-borne diseases. Even if the athletes own blood is used, the risk of infection from the re-infusion procedure is always present.
In addition, a large infusion of red blood cells (and resulting increase in cellular concentration) could increase blood viscosity and bring about a decrease in cardiac output, a decrease in blood flow velocity, and a reduction in peripheral oxygen content all of which would reduce aerobic capacity. (Profs Invention to Train Athletes While They Sleep. ” Blood Doping. http://spot. colorado. edu. /gamow/bedpr. html (9 Mar. 1997). This may cause the heart to work two hard. The human heart was not designed to pump this thickened blood throughout the body and, therefore, could lead to a multitude of problems.
Some of the problems that can arise from a blood transfusion are phlebitis, septicemia, hyperviscosity syndrome (including intravascular clotting, heart failure and potential death), bacterial infections, and air/clot embolisms. Even more frightening is the list of diseases that can be contracted through homologous transfusions. They include hepatitis, AIDS, malaria, CMV, and transfusion reactions (characterized by fever, urticaria, and possibly anaphylactic shock). Because of these reactions, among others, homologous blood transfusions are highly discouraged.
A great example of a successful blood doping procedure with adverse side effects is of the 1984 United States Olympic cycling team. Previous American cycling teams had not fared well in past Olympic Games. However, in the 1984 Los Angeles games, they decided to try blood doping as a way to get an advantage on the competition. The results were a huge success. The team brought home an U. S. cycling team record of nine medals.
The problem was not the fact that the athletes had undergone blood doping procedures, but, rather, how the procedure was performed. Between the Olympic trials and the actual games, the Americans did not have adequate time to use their own blood as a transfusion. Instead, they had to rely on the blood of relatives and others with similar blood types. Consequently, some of the cyclists received tainted blood and a short time after the Games contracted hepatitis, a serious liver disease (New Tests to Detect EPO Use. ” Blood Doping. http://www. wdn. com/mirkin/fc51. html )
Special concern has been expressed that the cardiovascular system of an athlete undergoing this procedure could be in jeopardy. Still, there are athletes out there that will put them at risk just to experience the glory of being number one, regardless of the circumstances. However in the last few years several ways have been discovered to increase our bloods oxygen carrying capacity that are not detrimental to us in anyway. They are altitude training and the High Altitude Bed. Both are safe and practical ways to achieve what some people accomplish through a highly dangerous and somewhat controversial method.
After the 1984 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee decided to discourage blood doping and, along with the NCAA and American College of Sports Medicine, ruled that “any blood doping procedure used in an attempt to improve athletic performance is unethical, unfair, and exposes the athlete to unwarranted and potentially serious health risks”(. New Tests to Detect EPO Use. ” Blood Doping. http://www. wdn. com/mirkin/fc51. html ) However, the problem lies with being able to detect that an athlete is in fact undergoing blood doping procedures.
How can you say what constitutes an abnormally high red blood cell level? In addition, how do you distinguish between blood doping athletes and those athletes who boost their hemoglobin levels by training at high altitudes? There is no answer to either of these questions. As of now, there are no foolproof tests for an athlete who blood dope. The agencies that have banned this practice will have to rely on the integrity of the athletes, coaches, and their medical support personnel to comply with their ruling. A new invention by a University of Colorado at Boulder professor only adds to the controversy of blood doping.
Igor Gamow, an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, has invented a sleep chamber that may enable endurance athletes to, in effect, train while they sleep (Profs Invention to Train Athletes While They Sleep. ” Blood Doping. http://spot. colorado. edu. /gamow/bedpr. html (9 Mar. 1997). ). The chamber mimics the reduced air pressure of high altitudes and stimulates the production of red blood cells. This enables an athlete training at sea level to gain the same fitness advantage as an athlete living at high altitude.
If this chamber is used correctly (six to eight hours a day for two to three weeks), the hemoglobin concentration can be boosted by more than 23%. Because the High Altitude Bed is legal, safe and natural; this procedure of red blood cell enhancement is called Holistic Blood Doping “(Effects of Blood Doping and Gamows High Altitude Bed. ” Blood Doping. http://spot. colorado. edu/gamow/doping. html) At the present time blood, doping is a controversial issue. With the new advances in science and sports medicine, this will probably be a dilemma for years to come.
Many present and future athletes will have to use their best judgment when this procedure becomes an issue in their lives. Blood doping is illegal but is also undetectable. The potential risks of such a procedure seem to outweigh any potential benefits, beyond the ethical issues involved. If a distinct advantage is needed in endurance events, altitude training and the altitude sleep chamber pose far fewer risks and are currently safe and legal. If all these fail there is always the method of hard, work and determination still count for something.