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What are the legal and illegal means of increasing your red blood cell count and how do the various methods work?

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Edward Jessop 10th February 2004 What are the legal and illegal means of increasing your red blood cell count and how do the various methods work? Blood is an obviously essential for the body. However, making the blood work more efficiently and to make it carry both more red blood (oxygen-carrying) cells and have more volume (plasma) can increase an athlete's ability to work harder. When the body increases its stores of blood cells naturally, the blood marrow in the bones is stimulated by a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) that is released by the kidneys. The stimulus for the body to do this is when the brain detects that the tissues are receiving too little oxygen. Conversely, if cells are getting too much oxygen, EPO levels are reduced and the bones slow production of erythrocytes (red blood cells). The easiest and legal way for athletes to increase the volume of red blood cells in their body is to train at altitude. When the body is exposed to the lower oxygen of the high altitude the kidneys produce EPO and the cell counts increase. Because the athlete is continuously subjected to this lower oxygen concentration in the air, the cells develop as quickly as they can, over several weeks. The gains in cells per litre of blood can be great over several weeks, depending on how high above sea level one is. ...read more.


New blood cells grown in the bones quickly replace those cells that are taken out. One or two days before the event, these blood cells are reintroduced to the athlete via an intravenous line. This infusion of millions of cells into the athlete can greatly influence the oxygen-carrying capacity of the athlete, providing a similar effect as having trained at higher altitudes for months, but with more definite results and none of the dangerous drawbacks of high altitude training. Of course, the main drawback of blood doping is that it has been deemed a form of cheating by the IOC and almost every other major athletics association. Because the cells are taken from the athlete's own body, it can be very difficult to determine if an athlete's blood has been doped, and another bonus of having used one's own cells is that there is no chance of side effects. There are also several chemical ways of improving the efficiency of the blood. Artificial erythropoietin can be created in labs, and it is absolutely identical to the protein produced by the body. This is yet another method of doping the blood. When the artificial EPO is injected into the blood, it travels to the bone marrow just as the EPO from the kidneys would. Bone marrow cells interpret the chemical messenger the same way as the natural version and begin to produce red blood cells. ...read more.


These chemicals are added to the blood and instead of causing the body to produce more blood cells; they themselves give the benefit to the athlete. Plasma expanders are drugs or fluids which, when intravenously administered to the blood, function almost as plasma. These types of drugs cause the blood volume to increase without increasing the number of cells. They can be used as an easy way' make the blood easier for the body to circulate. The reason for this is that when there is a higher blood pressure (more plasma equals more pressure) then the heart doesn't have to Work as hard to get the same amount of blood around the body as it would if there were less blood. Artificial oxygen carriers such as Oxyglobin or per fluorocarbon Work slightly differently. These chemicals have the ability to bond to oxygen, just like the haemoglobin in the blood. If an oxygen carrier is used, it is also intravenously administered, and it transforms the plasma itself into an oxygen carrier, making the system that much more efficient at getting oxygen to muscles and organs. The side effects of both of these procedures are minimal, as both break down and/or are excreted from the body soon. Every blood doping procedure provides a benefit for aerobic sports, such as marathon running, cycling, swimming, and any of the long-duration events. No form of blood doping would help someone in a sport such as weightlifting or the 50-metre sprint, because one's oxygen capacity is irrelevant in CP/Lactic energy sports such as these. ...read more.

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