If you’ve ever wondered about the juice that cyclists are banned from taking, especially erythropoietin (EPO), and perhaps idly toyed with going down that road, just to see what might happen…Don’t. Ever. Not only are there way too many tales of young, fit cyclists dying in the middle of the night (always mysteriously of course), but now there’s proof that in those mystery cases EPO likely isn’t causing heart attacks, it’s much more likely to be causing massive brain aneurisms.
In a recent study at Zurich’s Center for Integrative Human Physiology at the University of Zurich scientists have linked EPO to “cerebrovascular events,” caused by restricted blood flow to the brain.
But here’s the really scary part — they barely scraped the UCI’s limit on illegal hematocrit.
For three days subjects received large doses of EPO, and their hematocrit levels didn’t rise; other subjects went on less juice for 13 weeks and saw their hematocrit levels go up substantially, but still shy of the telltale score of 50 used by the UCI to flush out cheaters.
But even well below that mark during both rest and exercise, with and without restricted breathing (to simulate effort, altitude, etc.) both short and high doses of EPO and prolonged doses saw subjects with less blood getting to their brains, and this happened regardless of the signature hematocrit score.
That means that any amount of EPO can be dangerous to otherwise healthy people, increasing brain blood pressure and reducing blood flow, while constricting vital arteries. And by the way, this also means earlier evidence that stroke victims might benefit from EPO use is probably off base.
“EPO is used by doctors to increase red blood cells in sick people who can’t make enough of them: it’s called honest medicine. When EPO is used by healthy bikers and runners to boost their performance, it’s called cheating. Now we know that folks who use EPO covertly are cheating not only the time-clock, but themselves,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The Federation of the American Societies of Experimental Biology, where the study was published.