Blood substitute may harm, not help, athletes
Doping; with a blood substitute intended for surgery patients may do little to boost athletes' endurance, and may instead cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure, a new study suggests.
The blood substitute in question is called Hemopure, which is approved in certain countries as a treatment for surgical patients who develop anemia from blood loss. Derived from cow blood, the product mimics the job of red blood cells, delivering oxygen to tissues throughout the body.
That oxygen-carrying capacity also makes Hemopure a potential doping agent for endurance athletes looking to improve their stamina. Elite athletes have long abused EPO, a blood-boosting anemia drug, to try to gain a performance edge.
The new findings, reported in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, suggest that athletes who turn to Hemopure would be wasting their time.
Researchers found that infusions of the blood substitute did nothing to improve a measure called VO2 max in 12 physically active men. VO2 max refers to the amount of oxygen the body can consume during exercise, and is a key indicator of endurance performance.
The results suggest that, at least at the doses used in this study, Hemopure does not improve performance in endurance athletes; study co-author Dr. Yorck Olaf Schumacher told Reuters Health.
On the other hand, the side effects of Hemopure -- mainly blood pressure elevations -- are potentially dangerous, said Schumacher, of the University Medical Center Freiburg, in Germany.
In this study, Hemopure infusions caused the men's blood pressure to rise several points, on average. Similar effects have been seen in many previous studies, Schumacher pointed out.
It's not known how common Hemopure abuse might be among elite athletes, according to Schumacher, who noted that the product only recently became available in Europe. It was first approved for use in surgical patients in South Africa, in 2001.
However, given that Hemopure can be detected in anti-doping tests, Schumacher said, athletes who abuse it are very likely to be caught.