Athletes can use our understanding of respiration to improve performance through blood doping. Should this be banned?
Blood Doping is a technique used to increase an individual’s oxygen carrying red blood cells and improve athletic performance. It has direct impact on the VO2max, the measure of a person’s aerobic capacity. During exercise, the body undergoes aerobic respiration to provide sufficient delivery of oxygen to the muscles for producing energy. Red blood cells or the hormone erythropoietin are injected and an increase in red blood cells allows muscles to work longer and harder without cramping. It boosts the body’s ability to bring more oxygen to muscles, avoiding oxygen shortages that lead to muscle fatigue in the process of anaerobic respiration. Blood doping is banned by many professional sports organizations, such as the International Olmpics Committee, but isn’t entirely banned. Endurance athletes, cyclists and many professional athletes practice blood doping in order to gain a competitive edge in their field.
Most common methods for blood doping is injections of erythropoietin, injections with synthetic chemicals that can carry oxygen and blood transfusions. However these methods of blood doping can lead to various health issues.
Injections of erythropoietin (EPO)
The misuse of this medicine or hormone that promotes formation of red blood cells, produced by the kidney, can create great health risks. EPO thickens the blood and can lead to an increased risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and pulmonary embolism.
Synthetic oxygen carriers
Synthetic oxygen carriers, which are chemicals that have the ability to carry oxygen, appear useful for emergency therapeutic purposes when human blood is not available and the risk of blood infection is high or when there is not enough time to properly cross-match donated blood with a recipient. The misuse for dropping purposes carries the risk of cardiovascular disease with various side effects like strokes.
In an autologous transfusion, the transfusion of a person’s blood is stored for future use and in a homologous transfusion, a person uses the blood of someone else with the same blood type. However, in either form, the blood from another person may have a virus and using one’s own blood carries risks if the blood is not handled correctly or stored properly. There may be an unnatural increase in red blood cell levels which raises the risk of heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism.
In recent years, as athletes are searching for ways to elevate their performance and evade detection, a solution to this are athlete biological passports – recording the biological traits of of an athlete that indirectly reveal the effects of doping through tests done at regular intervals. The passport allows investigators to spot out any deviations from the athlete’s test-established norm that may result from doping. The drawback however is that cautious athletes who perform blood doping may remain difficult to detect, as according to Michael Ashenden, a sports scientist, says that athletes can be involved in small amounts of blood doping, without abnormal changes in the blood variables, monitored by the passport.
In my opinion, a ban on blood doping, won’t work unless WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) can detect the peformance-enhancing substances in the athlete’s body, which is becoming harder and harder as athletes are discovering new ways to cheat. I believe that the biological passport is a great tool with possibilities of limiting the doping practices, in the current professional sporting field, by keeping track of records of the resulting changes in the athlete’s bodies, and it could reduce the health risks caused by blood doping significantly.
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Ingle, Sean. “’Disgraced’ IAAF Has Failed Its Athletes, Say Embattled Anti-Doping Scientists.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 Nov. 2015, www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/nov/28/iaaf-athletics-doping-scandal.
Owens, Jessica. “Do Muscles Use Aerobic or Anaerobic Respiration?” Chron.com, 5 Apr. 2018, livehealthy.chron.com/muscles-use-aerobic-anaerobic-respiration-5353.html.
Rathi, Akshat. “This Simple Solution Might Stop Doping in Sports Once and for All.” Quartz, Quartz, 9 Nov. 2015, qz.com/544935/this-simple-solution-might-stop-doping-in-sports-once-and-for-all/.