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Blood Doping

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Blood Doping
Biology Research Paper
Samantha Reid

Seven time consecutive Tour De France champion and yellow rubber band seller of the decade openly admitted to blood doping. His name was Lance Armstrong and not only did he live through cancer, but he was one of the greatest athletes the world has ever known. His list of achievement goes on until his banishment for professional racing and the stripping of his titles. He admitted to using banned substances including steroids and blood doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on January 17, 2013. Why would a man with so many accomplishments cheat the system with prohibited procedures and the use of illegal performance drugs? The three topics that rise in answering why Lance Armstrong blood doped is explaining what blood doping is, the advantage and disadvantages of it and drug use in profession sports.
To describe what blood doping is one must first understand some key terms. Hemoglobin is a red protein responsible for carrying oxygen in your blood. Another key term is the cardiovascular system and this is an organ system that distributes the blood throughout the body to deliver nutrients and remove waste. And the respiratory system is the organ system that carries out gas exchange in your body. These three things all work together hand in hand like a smooth operating clock. The respiratory system gets the oxygen from the air and transports it to the blood carried in the hemoglobin. The oxygen enriched hemoglobin rides along the cardiovascular system to get to the needy muscles and deliver the oxygen to them. Mitochondria in the muscle cell use the oxygen in cellular respiration to generate ATP. The ATP is the energy the muscle cells need to operate. All functions in the human body need ATP. The production of ATP is dependent on an adequate supply of oxygen and without oxygen ATP production stops. But some cells can oxidize organic fuel and generate ATP without oxygen, this is known as fermentation(1). When the need for ATP out places the delivery of oxygen via the blood stream, say like in a multi-day long distance bike race, muscle cells switch to lactic acid fermentation. Those poor racers can get a built up of lactate in the muscle cells during the strenuous race which causes muscle fatigue and pain. These super Tour De France racers don’t want muscle fatigue and pain so what do they do? They have to get more oxygen enriched hemoglobin inside them to boost back up that production of ATP and stop the buildup of lactate. This is where blood doping comes in to play. Blood doping is the practice of boosting the number of oxygen enriched hemoglobin in the bloodstream in order to enhance athletic performance(3). Here is the way these racers do it. They withdraw about two pints of blood when their hemoglobin levels are at their highest, then allow their body to replace the blood taken out. The time when they had the highest levels of hemoglobin in their system was probably when they were in training and not racing, they had more time to breathe and relax, allowing the utmost amounts of oxygen into their system. They would freeze the blood to keep it safe and ready for when they needed it most. So later on down the road (literally) the race is on. After a heavy duty day of racing, men like Lance are tired and starting to get those high levels of lactic building up in their cells. So they thaw the blood out and inject it back into their systems and then boom just like that back to full power. Like a second wind the body is ready for some more with mega high levels of hemoglobin and mega levels of oxygenated blood(4). It does sound great, using your own blood to boost your performance, but it is considered an illegal practice in professional sports, most notably professional cycling.
There are many benefits and harms to blood doping and other performance enhancing drugs. Already explained is the advantage of blood doping, to boost ATP production and prevent lactic buildup but what about the disadvantages? One disadvantage comes from putting back the extra hemoglobin into your blood. Since your body’s natural response to blood loss is to create and replace the blood prior to the injections, the body’s blood level would have been at the right level. Since the racers need that extra hemoglobin they inject extra blood. The downside means extra thick blood which could lead to slowed circulation and cardiovascular problems. Cases where there is too much blood reintroduced into the blood stream could lead to increased chances of heart attack, stroke, phlebitis, and pulmonary embolism. Blood contamination during preparation or storage is another issue. Contamination was seen in 1 in every 500,000 transfusions of red blood cells in 2002(2). Lance Armstrong didn’t just admit to blood doping, he also admitted to using HGH (human growth hormone) and testosterone. Both of these are naturally occurring in the human body which is most likely the reason he used them, harder to trace. HGH is a steroid that claims to aid in weight loss and lean muscle tissue. Testosterone’s advantages are claimed to include growth of muscle mass and strength and increase bone density. Side effects of adding these natural occurring drugs to your body could result in your body stopping making of its own. The cheating drugs of professional sports have been around for a long time and most likely will always be prevalent. As the testing of athletes for performance enhancing drugs advances so do the drugs. Lance Armstrong was able to get away with it for so long due to choosing the right drugs and the right procedures. Transfusing your own blood back into you is very hard to trace since it’s your own blood. He injected small amounts of naturally produced steroids into his system. This was also hard to trace because it would be expected of professional athletes to have higher levels of these due to increased abilities. Blood doping has been seen in professional sports as far back as the 1980 Olympics. Today, it seems to be quite rampant in baseball and American football. The World Anti-Doping Agency leads the fight against its use, and are always working to find new and better means of detecting cheaters(2).
In conclusion, blood doping is a fantastic procedure in many ways. Not just in professional sports. Science could expand upon this for military use to create the perfect soldier or perhaps in hospitals and possibly save lives. It is unfortunate that they took away the records and titles of such an American hero for doing so small of a crime. Media will always capture upon moments like this because it is better news to see a hero fail than it is to see his or her continued victories. In Lance Armstrong’s open admittance to Oprah Winfrey he said he was tired of the constant abuse and pressure on him and his family in the fight against the accusation that he was using performance enhancing drugs. It could be believed that this reason could push a man to decide to find a means to an end or retire, by fabricating lies about being a blood doping and illegal drug user. Could it be that such a physically powerful man could also outsmart a nation? I like to believe that my hero Lance Armstrong could and his glory will never be tarnished in my mind. References
1. Reece, J. B. (2012). Campbell biology: concepts & connections (7th ed.). San Francisco, CA.: Benjamin Cummings.
2. Jelkmann, Wolfgang, and Carsten Lundby. "Blood Doping and its Detection." Blood Journal 118.9 (2013): 2395-2402Smith, M. (2001). Writing a successful paper. The Trey Research Monthly, 53, 149-150. Retrieved from:
3. Ashenden, M. M., Clarke, A. A., Sharpe, K. K., D’onofrio. G. G., Plowman, J. J., & Gore, C. J. (2013). Stability of athlete passport parameters during extended storage. International Journal Of Laboratory Hematology, 35(2), 183-192. doi:10.111/ijlh.12014
4. Discovery News. (2013, January 17). What is Doping? Lance Armstrong’s Secrets! [Video file]. Retrieved from

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