Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Gray Zone of Doping

What is cheating? Where is that very bold line that separates Doping from Clean? With all the doping scandals, it is looking like that line is in Russia, apparently. 

It seems pretty simple: Anything that gives an unfair performance advantage is cheating. Track is a sport where the most advantaged wins, and "unfair" is one of those weird, biased, undefinable terms--kind of like basketball foul rules.

Steve Magness (Known as the "Scientist of Running") and I discuss what it means to cheat. 

How do we categorize gray into black and white terms?  
What is "unfair"? 
Can too much talent can be a bad thing? 
Should I feel bad about that pre-race cup of coffee? 
And being a hermaphrodite is a talent, too, you know.

THE DOPING PODCAST (click below)!

FOR MY FRIENDS WHO DON'T LOVE SCIENCE! Here's a quick lesson in drugs, anatomy, and EPO!

The body basically has a giant tube running through it called the digestive system . It is good at keeping things out that should stay out. Technically, if you eat a penny and a day later you excrete a penny, that penny was never in your body. 
Drugs infiltrate this system and get into the body. This is why the FDA exists--so that they can make sure things that get into your body are semi-safe. 
There are no "risk free" drugs. Why? You take a drug to do something to your body, so therefore, it is doing something to your body. If there is evidence of physiological effect, that effect is going to have side effects. Usually the bigger the physiological effect, the larger the side effects. 

Everything in the body is based on concentrations. Too much or too little of a anything--muscle, hormone, cell growth is a problem. 
Let's take Dopamine for example. Dopamine is a hormone. Hormones are the messengers of the body. They tell other body parts what is going on and how to respond to the environment. Too little dopamine and you have Parkinson's disease and can't move your muscles. Too much and you are Schizophrenic. Being in the normal physiological range is, well, normal. And no one wants to be "abnormal."
Too much cell growth=cancer. 
Too many Red Blood Cells = Your blood is too thick to pump and you die. 
Too little Red Blood Cells= Anemia
There's always a consequence. 

So what's the deal with Supplements, man? 
Most supplements change your physiology about the same as food. This is optimistically thinking. Most supplements do not ever enter the body. But that Flintstones vitamin rock you just ingested--it has a hell of a placebo effect, so it may be worth the investment. 

If a supplement actually cured things, a drug company would test it to make sure it is safe and effective, and then patent it and then rake in the money. 

There are some supplements--DHEA, Red Yeast-- that do actually mess with your physiology a little--this is all that weird stuff that you see with body builders or herbalists that reject modern science. YOU SHOULD 100% STAY AWAY FROM WEIRD SUPPLEMENTS. They are not regulated in any capacity, so you have no clue what and how much you are putting in your body. 

In short: Eat a balanced diet and you shouldn't have to "supplement" it. 


Supplements might, maybe give your body more nutrients to digest. Drugs go in the body, pretend to be a part of the natural body system, bind to DNA, and cause superhuman, lasting effects. 

I hear this argument all the time: But Phoebe, it would be a level playing field if there were no rules.

Well, actually, it would most certainly not be a level playing field. 

1. Not everyone responds to drugs the same--there are people who turn into the Hulk at a very small amount of drugs. Races wouldn't be about who works hardest and races gutsy; it would be about who has the best drugs and whose body responds the best to those drugs. 
2. Unfortunately, drugs make a huge difference, there would be very little opportunity for clean people to survive in the sport.
3. Do you really want non-medical professionals making medical decisions?! People would get stupid with it. The "more is better" mentality would literally kill some people. 
4. The one with the best scientists (and least morals) would win.  
5. Drugs would take away the aspects that make runners the best people. Runners have grit, camaraderie, patience, perseverance... they have this because the ups and especially downs of running has bettered their personality. The secret is in the process. Drugs bypass this process and go straight to the results.
6. This is a sport, not a freak show!


Blood Doping: 8 weeks out from a race, dopers withdraw blood and freeze it. The body makes more blood to replace the loss. Then the blood is put back into the body pre-race. This results in more red blood cells in the body than physiologically possible. More blood=more oxygen=faster human. The cost: strain on the heart. Plus risky risky blood injections are risky.

EPO: Your body naturally produces EPO. It causes the body to make red blood cells. When you inject EPO, your body thinks it needs to make more and more and more red blood cells. More blood=more oxygen=faster human. 
One rare side effect of EPO: Immunogenicity. Your body sees the synthetic EPO as an intruder. The body then makes soldiers to attack the EPO intruder. Unfortunately, your body attacks both the synthetic and natural EPO. Which means you can no longer make red blood cells. Ever. You have to have transfusions for the rest of your life. 

Testosterone: Steroid hormone usually taken in cream form. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone--it causes your body to build things, like muscle mass, for example. It cuts down recovery time. It has a laundry list of side effects. Hormones control so many things that we do not know everything it controls.