What is EPO?

Erythropoietin, also called EPO is a peptide hormone that is naturally secreted by the kidneys. It has an essential role in red blood cells production. In fact, EPO stimulates bone marrow to make more blood cells that are carrying oxygen, so there will be more haemoglobin. Athletes who use EPO are using it in order to improve their stamina. By having more red blood cells, an athlete is more likely going to ran out of breath in far more time and feel less tired, because the red blood cells transporting oxygen will allow their muscles to have more energy and they will have a higher rate of aerobic respiration. By this way, athletes are boosting a lot their performance and that is why it has been banned for all competitions.

Although EPO seems to have so much beautiful effects, its misuse can bring terrible side effects such as fever, seizures, nausea, headaches, anxiety and legarthy. But most importantly, it increases the viscosity of the blood and therefore it increases the chances of having heart attacks, strokes and embolisms.

There are two ways to produce EPO, therefore red blood cells production. The natural way is to train in altitude. There, the oxygen is rarer than on the sea level and to counter the effect of having less oxygen and therefore less aerobic respiration, the kidneys will produce more EPO that will stimulate bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. The other way, the synthetic way, is to inject in your blood genetically modified cultures of Chinese hamster cells made by drug makers.

Two tests are used to detect the use of synthetic EPO: a blood test and a urine test. To be sure that an athlete used EPO, only the urine test is reliable and some organisms are using both blood and urine tests to be a 100% sure. We can’t rely only on the blood test because it analyses the percentage of red blood cells in the blood and if the percentage is higher the athlete might, and only might, have taken EPO. In fact, athletes who are born in countries in higher altitude have naturally a higher percentage of red blood cells and athletes who train in higher altitude will also have a higher percentage and that makes the blood test not really reliable.

Sources

Borrell, Brendan. ‟Hormone used for doping is made from scratch″. Nature. Nature international weekly journal. 12th of December 2013. Web. 28th of April 2015. http://www.nature.com/news/hormone-used-for-doping-is-made-from-scratch-1.14363

‟EPO DETECTION″. WADA. World anti-doping agency. 2015. Web. 28th of April 2015. https://www.wada-ama.org/en/questions-answers/epo-detection

‟Erythropoietin (EPO) ″. Teach PO. 2015. Web. 28th of April 2015. http://www.teachpe.com/drugs/epo.php

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