Blood doping refers to the practice some professional athletes use to artificially raise their amount of red blood cells with repeat blood transfusions, and with higher levels of oxygen in their blood they can push the limits of human endurance.
As it turns out, the molecule that naturally increases red blood cell production, erythropoetin, may also have a more direct effect in the brain, apart from the effects on oxygen capacity.
Researchers from the University of Zurich’s Center for Integrative Human Physiology ran a series of experiments on mice and found a large improvement in the exercise ability of the mice, even when they prevented the hormone from leaving the brain.
Researchers now believe that the erythropoetin molecule may have a direct effect in the brain that boosts physical performance, apart from the effects on blood and increased oxygen carrying ability.
Max Gassmann and Beat Schuler, both of whom hold a doctorate in veterinary physiology, were co-authors on the research.
The two scientists tested repeat injections of human erythropoetin in mice, allowing the hormone time to take effect and alter the blood to carry more oxygen.
Then it was compared to placing erythropoetin directly in the brain of the mice, where it was isolated from any effect on the blood. The mice still exercised just as hard.
The final step in the experiment was to create a genetically modified mouse that was unable to have its blood production affected by erythropoetin, to ensure that absolutely no contamination was occurring.
Those mice as well showed increased levels of endurance and energy when given erythropoetin, when compared to their behavior and endurance without the drug.
Gassmann was willing to speculate on what the effects might be, and possible uses for this discovery, saying, “Most probably, Epo has a general effect on a person’s mood and might be used in patients suffering from depression and related diseases.”
Epogen is a direct replica of natural human erythropoetin, and is currently used in treating patients who are on hemodialysis, and for treating cases of anemia since their production of blood is impaired.
Use of erythropoetin was recently cautioned against since there is some evidence that extended use may cause blood clots, especially in patients currently being treated for cancer.
No psychological effects have been documented since the approval of Epogen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1989.
The study was published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology on June 8, 2012.
Information regarding the researchers possible financial conflicts of interest was not made publicly available.
Between two and three million people in the United States are suffering with some form of anemia at any given time. Anemia is a generalized term for when the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells in the circulation and the body’s organs do not receive enough oxygen. Anemia is the most common blood disorder and has many different causes.
Usually it is caused by one of three mechanisms: blood loss (a hemorrhage or long-term slow blood loss, like in certain cancers), blood cells being destroyed in the body (hemolysis, where underlying disease states cause the red blood cells to be destroyed) and poor production of new red blood cells by the body (vitamin deficiencies such as B12 and folate and genetic disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassemias).
Other causes can be as a result of kidney failure, pregnancy, poor diet, autoimmune disease, leukemias and lymphomas, testosterone deficiency, and an underactive thyroid.
Symptoms of anemia can be general and usually will include feeling lightheaded or dizzy, being fatigued, headaches, shortness of breath during exercise, problems with concentration or cognition, and tingling sensations in the hands and feet. Physically, patients my exhibit pale skin and pallor, and have a rapid heartbeat and heart murmur.
Anemia can be easily detected from bloodwork. Physicians will note the levels of vitamins and minerals, the number of healthy red blood cells and the number of new, immature red blood cells, and the levels of iron and hemoglobin.
Treatment for anemia is dependent on the cause. In the case of anemias caused by vitamin deficiencies, supplementation with those vitamins is usually sufficient. IN the cases of chronic diseases such as cancer or anemia from chemotheraphy, drugs like erythropoietin may be given to stimulate blood cell production. In severe anemia, a blood transfusion will be given. In the cases of people who cannot be transfused due to religious or medical reasons, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been shown to be effective.