ERYTHROPOIETIN (EPO): What It Is and How Effective It Is

Erythropoietin or EPO, in its most basic and natural form, is a hormone or glycoprotein secreted by the kidney.

 What it does is to stimulate the formation of red blood cells in the bone marrow, thereby activating hemoglobin synthesis and increasing the level of oxygen that can be transported through the body. An inadequacy of erythropoietin might be an indication of anemia while too high levels can point towards kidney disease or Erythropoietin abuse. And although EPO testing can be quite a big deal, medical experts have placed normal erythropoietin levels to be from around 4 to 24 mu/ml (milliunits/milliliter).

By stimulating the production of Red Blood Cells, one of the functions of Erythropoietin or EPO is the boosting of physical strength and endurance. This makes it a target for abuse, especially by long-distance runners, cyclists, and other athletes. All they need to do is take increased doses of synthetic EPO which is usually available in the form of injections. One of such injections is Mircera which contains epoetin beta and methoxy polyethylene glycol. Ideally, it is a prescription medicine used in treatment of kidney disease-related anemia, but in extreme doses, has the power to hold off fatigue and enhance sports performance.

Imagine a long-distance runner running the entire lap without succumbing to fatigue in the tiniest bit. Similarly, in a 2007 study on cyclists by the European Journal of Applied Physiology, EPO was found to increase athlete performance by 54%! That’s how effective EPO is. Top sports tournaments such as the Olympics always include medical testing for Erythropoietin (EPO) among athletes.

But like with almost any substance, there’s a catch in abusing EPO. It causes the blood to thicken, increasing the risk for blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes.