High School High School Biology and Chemistry TSS

Blood Doping: The Extra O2 Behind the Gold Medal

As you step behind the white line on the running track, adrenaline runs through your veins as you get yourself ready for the race of your life. You jump up and down and try some breathing exercises, anything to get that gold medal. And for some athletes, they really would do anything to get that gold medal, like cheating with more oxygen. That's where blood doping comes in.

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As you step behind the white line on the running track, adrenaline runs through your veins as you get yourself ready for the race of your life. You jump up and down and try some breathing exercises, anything to get that gold medal. And for some athletes, they really would do anything to get that gold medal, like cheating with more oxygen. That’s where blood doping comes in.

Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone that is secreted by glandular epithelial cells directly into the bloodstream. EPO stimulates the production of red blood cells in the red bone marrow. More red blood cells increase the blood’s oxygen (O2) capacity. The end result is more blood being carried to the body’s muscles and thus more endurance [1].

Blood doping works by simulating the effects of EPO on the body. Essentially, an athlete undergoes a blood transfusion in which they draw out their own blood. The blood is stored for a few months as the body replenishes itself. Then, right before the competition, the stored blood is transfused back into the athlete. What occurs is an increase in the number of red blood cells, thus an increase in the blood’s O2 capacity. [2]. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Many methods of blood doping are illegal, especially in professional sports. By reducing muscle fatigue and helping muscles do more work for longer periods of time, blood doping gives athletes an unfair advantage in endurance sports like bicycling and cross-country [1]. Furthermore, blood doping also carries some health risks. Since it results in an increased number of blood cells, it becomes harder for the heart to push blood around, which can lead to blood clots and increased risk of developing a stroke [2].

One of the current detection methods used to unmask blood doping is the “Athlete Passport,” a method used by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that compares blood samples before and after a competition. Still, some researchers are actively finding more effective methods to detect blood doping in athletes. At Duke University, a research team has found another way to help detect evidence of doping. On the WADA’s “Athlete Passport,” Jen-Tsan Chi, M.D., Ph.D. at Duke remarked, “The difficulty has been that the tests they have couldn’t tell the difference between a young blood cell and an old one” [3]. Thus, the Duke researchers found a predictable and consistent way to detect blood doping through ribonucleic acid (RNA) in red blood cells by monitoring the increase in a microRNA (miRNA) called miR-720 [3].

Needless to say, that shining gold medal is all that some ambitious athletes can see as their measure of success. It’s that shining gold medal that could tempt athletes to commit a moral wrong, to lie and cheat with blood doping. But in the end, hard work and integrity are what counts. All of those drills and practices have led you to this moment on the track, and the feeling of fulfillment you get from your tried and true effort is much better than the feeling of superficial pride you will get through blood doping.


  1. Bryner, Jeanna. “What Is Blood Doping?” LiveScience, Purch, 3 Jan. 2013, http://www.livescience.com/32388-what-is-blood-doping.html.
  2. DukeU. “New Finding Could Unmask Blood Doping in Athletes.” EurekAlert!, http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-10/du-nfc101818.php.
  3. Wedro, Benjamin. “What Is Blood Doping? Risks, Side Effects, EPO, Lance Armstrong.” MedicineNet, http://www.medicinenet.com/blood_doping/views.htm.

 

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