Each year athlete's abilities to perform and exceed beyond previous year's seems to increase. Better training methods, better conditioning techniques, and better overall health of the athlete can contribute to this increased ability. However, "some athletes always seem to take it a step further. They engage in a process called blood doping." (Beckham, 2002, www). Blood doping, also called induced erythrocythemia, is an intravenous infusion of blood that produces an increase in the blood's oxygen carrying capacity. The blood doping procedure does increase an athlete's ability, but can potentially do more harm than good in the end.
The ethics and safety issues concerning blood doping are very controversial throughout the scientific and athletic communities. The procedure to blood dope generally begins several weeks before an athlete's key competition. During this time 1 to 4 units of the athlete's blood is withdrawn. "The blood is then centrifuged and the plasma components are immediately re infused while the remaining red blood cells are placed in cold storage (Beckham, 2002, www).
The units of blood are now considered to be packed RBC's and are either refrigerated at 4 degrees C or frozen at -80 degrees C. Today's scientists recommend the freezing process because the freezing completely halts the aging process of the cells. Freezing can allow the blood to be stored for us to 10 years with only 10% to 15% red blood cell loss. When the athlete is ready to use the blood it is infused back into the body. This reinfusion process is generally done 1 to 7 days before the competition.
When the process is done correctly it can increase the hemoglobin level and red blood cell count by up to 20%. Table 23-4 (Robertson, 1982, 490) The chart above shows the hemoglobin concentration remains maximally elevated for at least two weeks after infusion and remains high for two to three months. The increase in the hemoglobin level and blood cell count is why blood doping works. The increase of the hemoglobin and blood cell allows more efficient transportation of oxygen through the muscles from the increase in the red blood cells.
The more efficient transportation of oxygen in turn results in an overall improved performance during exercise. Blood doping has both proponents and opponents throughout the scientific and athletic communities. In 1984 the International Olympic Committee, the NCAA and the American College of Sports Medicine ruled, "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 (Catlin, 1996, 231)." However there is no sure way of detecting whether an athlete has undergone blood doping. The results of blood doping can look just like the results of an athlete training at high altitudes. As a result of there being no foolproof tests for blood doping agencies have no way of enforcing a ban. Scientists who oppose blood doping are continually trying to find non-drug alternatives that will help improve athletic performance.
Along with the ethical questions concerning blood doping that are many medical concerns regarding the safety of blood doping. Blood doping can also result in the opposite effect to those intended. A large infusion of red blood cells can increase blood viscosity resulting in decreased blood flow and a reduction in oxygen content. There is no way to know this problem will occur beforehand. Other dangers of blood doping include phlebitis, septicemia, infections, and air / clot embolisms.
(Gledhill, 1982, 188). Diseases such as hepatitis, AIDS and malaria can also be contracted through blood doping. Presently blood doping is still banned from Olympic events and college competitions but will continue to be a controversial issue for years to come. The athlete must weigh the potential risks and ethical issues against the potential benefit before resorting to blood doping.
If an athlete is in need of a distinct advantage in a competition one should consider an alternative such as high altitude training, after all hard work and determination still count for something. Beckham, Darren. Biology 1407 Concepts of Biology II. [Online] Available web February 10, 2002 Effects of Blood Doping and Gamow's High Altitude Bed." Blood Doping.
[Online] web, Marcy 9, 1997) Catlin, Don H, Murray Thomas H: Performance-Enhancing Drugs, Fair Competition, and Olympic Sport, JAMA 1996; 276: 3: 231-237. Gledhill Norman: Blood Doping and Related Issues; a brief review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, JAMA 1982; 14: 3: 183-189 Robertson, J. J.
et at. : Effect of induced Erythrocythemia on hypoxia tolerance during exercise 1982; 53: 490.