The Use of Drugs in Sports

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Competitive athletes are constantly in search of ways to get better, seeking a slight edge over their closest competition. They are willing to practice for countless hours, put themselves through rigorous training and follow a very strict diet. Those who are passionate about their sport are willing to do just about anything to improve performance, but just how far are athletes willing to go? With recent advancements in sports science, it has become possible to alter some elements of human physiology. The human body has been meticulously studied over the years, and as a result we are able to comprehend how complex systems function enabling the human body to perform simple everyday functions, as well as, impressive athletic performances. Science has discovered there are ways to improve the physiology of the human body to enhance athletic performance. By carefully tailoring specific functions to enhance a specific task an athlete will most likely be able to get the “one up” on the competition. Science has also discovered there are dangers associated with tampering with these complex systems that keep the human body alive and well. Unfortunately, some athletes ignore the physiological risks/ professional repercussions and indulge in enhancing some physiological processes in order to gain a slight edge against the competition. Today, as well as in the past, various sporting organizations have had to deal with performance-enhancing issues through testing of their athletes, yet these people continue to seek out ways to sneak under the wire, undetected. One example of athletes trying to beat the system is that of the recently publicized performance-enhancing dispute with blood doping in the sport of cycling, namely the use of recombinant human erythropoietin (Robinson, Mangin, and Saugy 2003). The following will discuss the function of erythropoietin, its uses in medicine and athletics, the benefits and risks of artificial along with testing methods for detection of illegal use. In order to perform in endurance sports, efficient oxygen delivery from lungs to muscles is crucial. The cells responsible for oxygen delivery are erythrocytes, or red blood cells. The functional portion of the red blood cell that acts as an oxygen carrier is the protein molecule hemoglobin (Kraene, Fleck and Deschenes 2012). Hemoglobin is a four part haem-iron containing protein, with two alpha and two beta subunits associated with each molecule. Hemoglobin accounts for 99% of the protein composition of an erythrocyte (Lippi, Franchini, Salvengo et al). Circulating blood contains approximately 40-45% red blood cells in its composition (Kraene, Fleck and Deschenes 2012). The hemoglobin associated with each red blood cell has a specific mechanism for pick-up and delivery of oxygen. This mechanism depends on varying physiological body conditions during which oxygen has differing affinity for the hemoglobin molecule. The conditions at which affinity for oxygen is high include lower body temperature, low carbon dioxide, and low 2,3-diphosphoglyerate (Elliott 2008). As these are the conditions found in the lungs, plentiful oxygen will bind to the hemoglobin for transport to the tissue cells in the body. In the tissue where carbon dioxide concentrations are high, body temperature increases, higher hydrogen ion and ,2,3-disphosphoglycerate concentrations, oxygen affinity for hemoglobin is reduced, resulting in the delivery of oxygen to tissues (Elliott 2008). During physical exercise, the body's consumption of oxygen is increased due to the demand of working muscles. As a result of this process, the carrying capacity of hemoglobin is adjusted automatically to deliver adequate oxygen to the muscle tissues (Lippi, Franchini, Salvango et al 2006). Applying this principle of supply and demand, to an endurance sport, one can see how an athlete’s aerobic training regime aims to peak the efficiency of the process of oxygen delivery from lungs to...
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