EPO…What is it?…. How does it work?


By now most of you would have heard of EPO in sports particularly sports that require long periods of endurance work. EPO is also known as blood doping in sports such as cycling and often mentioned in the “Tour de France” Its full name is erythropoietin. Erythropoietin is a protein hormone naturally produced by our kidneys. When it is released in our blood stream it binds with receptors in our bone marrow that stimulates the production of more red blood cells (erythrocytes). The medical world often uses it to treat anaemia mainly when our kidneys fail. What this drug does is accelerates erythrocyte production which increases oxygen carrying capacity. This is why the athletes use it to assist them in endurance sports which require long periods of muscular endurance. Of courses this is illegal and also very dangerous. In years past athletes would do high altitude training and would then have their blood taken and bottled for future events where they would receive a blood transfusion prior to an event. This process was and is, also illegal. However with medical advancement athletes now resort to using the drug EPO instead of the previous practice. This newer practice (although it has been around for some 10 or so years) enables performance improvements in endurance sports because of the extra oxygen carrying capacity that assist the muscles from fatiguing during an event. Testing to detect this is difficult because the man made EPO made in a laboratory is near identical to the naturally occurring EPO in our bodies. There are also no real established normal ranges for EPO in our body. Sports governing bodies started to ban an athlete if the level was too high or above 50% of normal ranges. However this still gave a huge advantage for those who kept their level at the acceptable levels. The main way athletes are caught is if they are found with the drug on them or in their baggage etc. In some cases people were also dobbed in by their team mates. We do now see a urine test that can pick up slight differences in normal human produced and synthetic EPO. This will stem the tide for now however expect to see some previous athletes get caught as their old (still kept) samples are re-evaluated. The reason that EPO is dangerous is because of increased blood viscosity. Whole blood consists of red blood cells plasma, water, proteins etc,the percentage of whole blood that is occupied by the red blood cells is referred to as hematocrit. A low hematocrit means dilute or thin blood and a high hematocrit means concentrated thick sludgy blood. Thick or sludgy (not sure that is correct terminology but you get the picture) clogs capillaries. If this happens in the brain it results in a stroke, and in the heart region results in a heart attack You may be aware of some athletes where this has sadly occurred. So I hope this goes someway to explain how it works and why you should avoid it like the plague. This type of behaviour may help athletes win an event but is a sure way to an early grave and in some circles believed to be the cause of cancer and other illnesses.
By: John Hart
Master’s In Education” (Disability/Rehab) Newcastle University Australia
“Grad Cert Education” Newcastle University Australia
“Diploma Fitness/Recreation”
“Diploma of Sport and Recreation”
“Cert 4 Personal Training”
“Level 1 Strength and Conditioning Coach”
Member of ASCA (Australian Strength and Conditioning Association)

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