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Facts About Blood Doping

Performance Enhancement

What is blood doping?

Blood doping isn’t a new technique, in fact, it has been used for years as a method of increasing the oxygen carrying capacity of one’s blood. For athletes this mean enhancement of one’s performance as well. It is for this reason that the main recipients of blood doping are athletes. According to doctor Shannon Sovndal (2007), “Physiologists believe that it is the rate at which hemoglobin delivers oxygen to the exercising muscle that limits muscle performance.” As such, blood doping is done through a blood transfusion that increases the number of hemoglobin molecules within the blood.

Where does blood doping occur? Whom does it affect?

As mentioned, blood doping occurs through transfusion, and thus occurs in the blood stream, specifically acting on oxygen-carrying blood. EPO, or erythroproietin, is one of the substances used in blood doping. EPO is a natural hormone that is produced by the kidney in order to supplement oxygen when it is low in the body. As such, EPO signals bone marrow to increase red blood cell production, which in turn increases the amount of oxygen sent to the various muscles in the body (Asplund, 2004).

Currently, two methods of transfusion are being used in blood doping: Homologous and Autologous. The former, homologous is the transfusion of blood from a donor, other than oneself. This form leaves the individual open for possible disease due to infected blood, and the consequences of being caught. Since the blood is donated, minute differences in cells can be detected in tests (such as those given to athletes before competitions). The upside, however, is that the performance of the athlete never falters since they are not the donators of the blood.

In contrast, autologous blood doping is the use of one’s own banked blood for transfusion. This causes a period in which the athlete is not in top shape, however, it eliminates the risk for infected blood. Additionally, it is harder to detect those who have used this method since tests have to look for different ques of doping instead of differences in blood cells, as is used in homologous doping tests.

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Press examples of blood doping.

Blood doping has made the news on several occasions, and with these reports came further suspicion of the use of doping in sports, and other professional careers in which performance enhancement would be desirable.

One of the most publicized cases of blood doping dealt with popular cyclist Tyler Hamilton, who was tested for the possibility of enhancement through various samples given over about a month’s time, all of which showed mixed blood cells (Asplund, 2004). The term “mixed blood cells” refers to differences in the blood cells of the body, which correlates to the formerly explained test used to detect blood doping through differences in the blood cells. Hamilton’s doping controversy resulted him being stripped of his Athens Olympic gold metal and a two year suspension from cycling.

Another prominent cycling case of blood doping occurred during a non-competition test on the Astana cycling team. One particular rider, one Kazakh Andrey Kashechkin was charged with homologous blood doping after a positive test result surfaced (VeloNews, 2007). The positive test result was followed by suspension, and the increased suspicion of the entire team for the use of blood doping. Officials for the Tour de France assert that they are cracking down on blood doping and those that use the technique. Currently, many different cycling organizations are discouraging the practice, as well as aiding in some way to the development of more precise testing methods.

You might be wondering why so many cases of blood doping are found in cycling. The truth is that the effects of blood doping are best for athletes who run, cycle, and swim, as these sports require a great deal of oxygen for endurance. However, other forms of doping (i.e through the use of pills) have been found in a number of other athletes from baseball to skiing. The use of other doping methods are more easily detected as well, whereas blood doping is harder to detect.

Is blood doping ethical?

It seems that one of the biggest problems with some athletes blood doping is that it causes other athletes to have to also engage in the practice in order to keep up. At that point, where does the enhancement stop? We’d no longer be competing in sports that measure the natural ability of the athletes, but rather who can enhance their body more in order to win. Doping of all kinds also affects the body, and encouraging the act also encourages the damages that doping incurs. Is it ethical? After considering these things, no, doping (including blood doping) is not ethical. The act unfairly places one athlete above another. While this advantage occurs naturally through athletic ability, the key is that it is natural ability. This is similar to a team spying on another’s technique at tactics in order to plan opposition. Both are cheating, and cheating in an ethical act.

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Who should pay for the costs of blood doping on society?

The costs incurred as a result of blood doping should be paid for by the medical community that perform the procedures, and the figures involved. Cases involving blood doping should include community service, as well as payment for the “damages.” It is hard to say where else to turn for the costs on society, such as possible encouragement to youth in sports to enhance their abilities. Perhaps the influence on society is worse than any monetary costs incurred by doping. It would be unfair to penalize the unions and organizations involved with sports, thus, it may be helpful to develop organizations specifically geared toward the societal and monetary effects of doping, in all its various forms.

It is also hard to pin the medical costs of blood doping related problems on insurance companies, although they will naturally carry the brunt of the burden. Still, manufacturers of doping agents, and or those that perform the procedure should take some responsibility for the costs.

What is your opinion regarding blood doping?

I have noted that it is unethical, and I stick to that point. As such, I don’t think it should be used in competitive sport. Should personal use be desired, I wouldn’t be able to make much of an argument. The reason blood doping is so unethical is due to the unfair advantage it provides for the user, and the pressure it puts on other competitive athletes to use blood doping in order to keep up with their competitors. Should doping be used for personal purposes, ways in which a competitive advantage is not given, then it would be more of a personal decision. I have to wonder though, would this enhancement spread to use in the military? Would the government use it to give U.S soldiers an advantage? Would this then be considered unethical?

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There seem to be a great deal of questions surrounding blood doping. For example, more needs to be discussed about the health consequences of those that have the procedure done. Right now we know individuals that undergo homologous blood doping run the risk of infection through another person’s blood, but this can be averted through analogous blood doping. It seems that few people are aware of the other side effects of blood doping. Excessive transfusion of red blood cells can increase the blood’s thickness which increases the risk of clotting and heart failure; not to mention the increased thickness can actually decrease the ability for blood to flow which in turn decreases the ability of the body to engage in aerobic activity (Beckham, N. d). These should all be considered by both athletes and by those considering blood doping as a personal enhancement unrelated to athletic competition.

References:

Asplund, C. (2004). Blood Doping in Cycling. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.roadcycling.com/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi/4/853

Beckham, D. (N. d). Blood Doping: Is it Really Worth It? Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.texarkanacollege.edu/~mstorey/beckham.html

Fordyce, T. Doping in Sport. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/medical_notes/3559882.stm

Sovndal, Shannon. (2007). A Doctor Explains Blood Doping. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.velonews.com/article/12924

VeloNews. (2007). Kashechkin Tests Positive, Suspended. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.velonews.com/article/13063