Blood Doping - The Lance Armstrong Secret

Lance Armstrong Mural at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin

This mural was a tribute to the legend that is Lance Armstrong, an Austin hero.
This mural was a tribute to the legend that is Lance Armstrong, an Austin hero. | Source

About Blood Doping

Donating blood is good for you! Yes, athletes all over the world have discovered how donating blood builds new and powerful red blood cells. Every time someone donates a unit of blood, about 450 ml., the body works hard to replace that blood. The bone marrow of the donor is stimulated to make fresh red cells. These fresh cells have higher oxygen carrying capacity.

Each red blood cell has an average life span of 120 days. The older a red cell gets, the weaker it becomes until finally, the used cell is consumed by white cell macrophages and is filtered out of the blood stream by the liver. The oxygen carrying component of red blood cells is inside of the cytoplasm which contains hemoglobin (haemoglobin). The cytoplasm instructs the hemoglobin to take in oxygen from the lungs and release oxygen into the muscle cells when and where it is needed.

There are three main ways to use blood doping as an athletic enhancement:

  1. Donate your own blood and either use the donation to stimulate the build up of fresh cells, or give your own blood back to yourself as a "boost". This is known as autologous donation and cannot normally be tracked as an illicit means of enhancement because there is no foreign substance to detect during testing. Receiving compatible blood from another donor (homologous donor) can be detected in certain sophisticated tests.
  2. Injections of EPO or erythropoietin, which is a hormone used to stimulate the bone marrow in kidney disease. High levels of EPO can be detected in blood doping cases.
  3. Synthetic oxygen carriers are short lived artificial chemicals. Examples of these chemicals are PFC's (perfluorocarbons) and HBOC's (hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers).

How blood doping works in an athlete.

How blood doping works.
How blood doping works. | Source

Donating Your Own Blood (Autologous Donations)

Before a major surgery, many people visit a blood bank and donate blood for their own use. Should they have a need for a blood transfusion after surgery, they will automatically have good, compatible blood that requires abbreviated testing. The blood is specifically reserved for the donor's use and no other person may receive that blood.

The athlete that donates blood for his or her own use must go through a physician to get a prescription for autologous blood donations and receive an order from a physician to transfuse it back into the person who donated the blood. This is usually the way the blood doping "secret" leaks out. Only trained medical personnel can withdraw, store and re-infuse blood in a safe manner.

Freezing your own blood requires even more sophisticated methods and equipment. Frozen blood must be mixed with a stabilizer called glycerine and stored in a constantly monitored freezer that keeps the blood at minus 65° Celsius. Thawing and washing the blood requires very intense methodologies that are rarely performed outside of a national blood bank.

To say that Lance Armstrong (or any other athlete) donated and stored his own blood for re-infusion is to say that he had plenty of help along the way. As a Medical Laboratory Scientist specialising in blood banking, I have doubts on the truth of the story that Lance stored blood in his refrigerator and or freezer and used it for the purposes of athletic blood doping.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has devised an "Athlete Passport" to try to catch autologous blood doping practitioners. The passport keeps a record of blood tests on each athlete over time which will profile the parameters of the athlete's blood tests. Significant changes in testing over time may indicate blood doping.

Erythropoietin - Blood Production Stimulation

EPO is a very powerful bone marrow stimulating hormone that until recently was difficult to detect as a blood doping agent for athletes. During the 2000 Summer Olympics, a test to detect EPO was used on athletes. This test was implemented by the International Olympic Committee and then later adopted by WADA.

Athletes have used EPO to enhance their blood count, thereby increasing their oxygen carrying capacity. EPO is extremely effective in treating anemia and can drastically increase the hematocrit levels of recipients.

Aside from being very noticeable on the Athlete Passport which records hematocrit levels, EPO has some really nasty side effects for athletes.

  • EPO can and does increase the blood hematocrit (thickness of the blood). A normal hematocrit level is approximately 40% of the total volume of blood. When the range gets up into the 50-60% range, dehydration or blood doping may be suspected.
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of embolism
  • Increased risk of auto immune diseases

For athletes willing to risk blood doping, EPO and related substances can increase performance, but the risk is high. Now that every athlete is usually tested for EPO, the risk is no longer worth the advantage of using it.

Synthetic Oxygen Carriers

Artificial blood has been around for several years now. It is used mainly in emergency situations when safe human blood is either inadequate or unavailable. Research on artificial blood is the focus of many scientists because of the value it has in life saving situations. In most crisis requiring blood, the trick is to keep the body supplied with oxygen. In athletes, the goal is to gain an edge by having adequate or superior supplies of oxygen carrying capacity.

Hemoglobin bases oxygen carriers (HBOC's) and perflurocarbons (PFC's) are artificial chemicals and proteins used to carry oxygen to tissues without the use of donated human blood. A test to detect these substances in athletes was instituted in 2004.

Side effects for human blood doping and artificial blood doping are somewhat the same. Human blood carries more chance of infection from viruses and bacteria. Artificial blood is purified and therefore sterile. Both types of 'blood' can and do cause some unwanted side effects.

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Embolism
  • Kidney Impairment
  • Allergic reactions

Synthetic blood is no real substitute for human blood at the present time. There are many other factors present in human blood that are not present in artificial blood. Artificial blood's place in the medical community is for emergencies only and it is never used for therapeutic benefit except in the illicit use by athletes.

Blood Doping Opinions

Do you think it is right for athletes to use blood doping to encrease athletic performance?

See results without voting

Lance Armstrong's Story and Blood Doping in Sports

Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever
Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever

Lance Armstrong won a record-smashing seven Tours de France after staring down cancer, and in the process became an international symbol of resilience and courage. In a sport constantly dogged by blood-doping scandals, he seemed above the fray.

 

© 2013 Austinstar

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Comments - Do you love or dislike Lance Armstrong for Blood Doping? 12 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Everything about Lance Armstrong pisses me off...except this hub. :) Thanks for the education.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA

Hi Lela (Austinstar) - Once a dope, always a dope. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Gus :-)))


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Uvery interesting! Lela I was glued to this. I should have guessed you'd know what was going on in this case:).

I don't think dopers should be allowed. When people enter a physical race or sport...it should be one human going against one human. That's the beauty of it - natural talent not drug induced speed or accuracy. It's not fair to the guys who don't dope. It's also stupid. Another example of people trying to own things they can never.

Awesome hub...pretty thought provoking.


Motown2Chitown 3 years ago

Lela, Kelly pretty much took the words right out of my mouth.

I was absolutely fascinated by this hub. Amazing information and SO well written. Probably one of the best inspirational hubs I've ever seen on HP.


Cagsil profile image

Cagsil 3 years ago from USA or America

A very well written hub. I learned a lot. Thank you. :)


Motown2Chitown 3 years ago

Hmmm.....I meant "informational." Sorry.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

@billybuc - I kind of disagree on Lance being so maligned. He had testicular cancer and wasn't expected to live. One testicle was amputated and if remission had not occurred, he would have lost both and probably even his life. It was after all this that he began his athletic career. The things he did or drugs he took or regimen he endured not only cured his cancer, but enabled him to physically perform above and beyond his peers. I think we should be investigating all of the methods he used as health treatments - not for athletes necessarily, but for ourselves! True, he did lie and that is a shameful thing, but he may have discovered a valid health regimen.

@Gus - it's sad to say that Lance is a hero to the people of Austin and he did spend a good deal of his illicit gains to found LiveStrong, a community for fitness and cancer research.

@ RealHousewife - I know that all athletes should be honest and as physically fit as humanly possible without the use of enhancement drugs, doping or supplements, but I also know that athletes should be able to use extraordinary physical regimens to obtain that goal. That's what makes them so good. While it isn't fair to cheat and lie, the treatments should be viable, tested and used by suitable contenders to help their bodies. These treatments often have heath benefits for everyone. It is how vitamin, mineral and supplements came to be so popular. Because they work to make us better humans.

Hi Mo - I laughed at the 'inspirational' comment. I would not want to encourage athletes to do blood doping, but I do encourage them to donate blood as often as possible because it is a life saving thing to do and it's helpful to their own bodies.

@Cagsil - I'm glad I was able to shed some light on this subject.


Motown2Chitown 3 years ago

I did too. I didn't even realize that's what I had typed till Cags posted his comment. I was sort of amused!


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 3 years ago from Arizona

It is always disappointing to be betrayed by an icon in the world of sports. However he made a decision and got away with it for a long time. So people will forget all the good he did. Interesting and well researched hub on the subject.


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

What a revelation this hub is, Lela, about the process known as blood doping for enhancing athletic performance. Perhaps some good will come out of this some day to benefit all people.

In the meantime, you ARE the Blood Queen, m'dear.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 3 years ago from Central Oregon

I do agree that we could all learn something from this in the scientific world! So perhaps his lies and cheating served a purpose~ I am saddened by the fact that someone beating the odds in terms of cancer ends up on the short end of the stick and only wish he'd perhaps been an experimental "trial" rather than an athlete needing to be stripped of his dignity. I see both sides though and only hope folks CAN stop focusing on him and get down to the business of curing diseases with this technique! Wouldn't that be unusual--turning a negative into a positive!~


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe Author

Hi Carol - I think Lance got away with what he did for so many years because he is obviously not the only one doing it. There must be a whole medical team that specialises in 'enhancing' athletic performance and I'm sad to say, a lot of them must be in the medical field.

Drbj - Always nice to see your lovely old icon! I am the queen of blood. I was once accused of being Anne Rice! But at any rate, I have never been asked to help an athlete with blood doping. Not to my knowledge anyway.

Hi Audrey - I recently learned that 30 or so athletes have died as the result of blood doping or trying to blood dope. Nasty side effects of trying to get too much blood into your body. I guess without 'jocks' we might never discover the good and bad of some radical treatments, eh?

There are diseases that can be cured through the use of blood transfusions. One experiment even showed that it was possible to transfuse fat people with thin people's blood and that they would lose weight by this treatment.

I tell you, there is so much we could be doing with transfusion therapies, but people are scared of blood for some reason.

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