What Is Blood Doping And Is It Dangerous?

Blood doping refers to the illicit practice of artificially increasing the number of red blood cells in your bloodstream in order to enhance your athletic performance. Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body (via WebMD). Increasing the amount of red blood cells in your system can lead to a higher concentration of oxygen in your muscles. This increased oxygen supply can help improve your athletic performance by fueling your muscles and boosting your stamina and endurance.

The most common methods of blood doping include blood transfusions, injections of synthetic oxygen carriers, and injections of erythropoietin (EPO). Illicit blood transfusions involve getting a transfusion of your own blood or someone else's blood in order to increase your red blood cell count, while synthetic oxygen carriers are chemicals that can mimic hemoglobin by carrying oxygen to your cells. EPO, on the other hand, is a protein that stimulates red blood cell production, increasing the oxygen levels in your body.

The risks of blood doping

Blood doping is currently banned by the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and for good reason. Blood doping is risky and can pose a danger to your overall health and safety (via Verywell Fit). For instance, blood doping can overcrowd your plasma with red blood cells, causing your blood to thicken and your blood pressure to increase.

"Increasing the blood count makes it more viscous," Dr. Philip Friere Skiba, the program director of sports medicine at Lutheran General Hospital, told Mental Floss. "We call this 'sludging,' which can slow down your heart rate and cause clots." Sludging can narrow or constrict your blood vessels and put strain on your heart. This can potentially increase the risk of blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke for those who rely on blood doping to increase their athletic performance. That's why athletes are constantly being tested for EPO, synthetic oxygen carriers, blood transfusions, and any other forms of blood doping. Not only is blood doping considered cheating, but it is also quite dangerous.