Blood Doping

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Lance cheated. Deep in our hearts we knew it, but until the words came out of his mouth, there was a glimmer of hope that he still could be our hero. Now he has fallen, admitting that he blood doped, used steroids and erythropoietin (EPO), and exhibited disdain to those around him, both friend and foe. The problem, however, is that sports are always filled with cheating, and the public accepts some acts of dishonesty as part of the game. The distinction between what is ethically acceptable and what is not continues to be a blurred line.

Muscle cells are factories that take the raw materials, oxygen and glucose, and turn them into energy. Training increases the ability of the body to deliver oxygen to the cells and increases muscle size. More efficiency and more power yield better athletic performance. Increasing the number of red blood cells in the body increases the ability to deliver oxygen to tissues and that's where blood doping and EPO come in.

EPO is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red cells. Medically, it is given to patients with anemia of chronic disease whose bone marrow is suppressed to help them have more energy and increase daily function. But, inject it into an elite athlete and the extra oxygen increases their aerobic capacity. If the cell factory runs out of oxygen, it turns to anaerobic metabolism, whose waste products shut down the ability to perform. The risk of increasing the number of red cells? Too many red cells can cause blood to sludge and clot in arteries and veins, causing bad things like stroke and heart attack.