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It requires much iron-pumping, dietary improvements, and supplementing to boost muscle mass. However, some tissues in our body are quite good at regenerating, at self-renewal. Red blood cells (RBCs) that carry oxygen to every part of the body are renewed every three months.
All blood cells, RBCs and WBCs (white blood cells), start their journey from bone marrow. Soft tissue inside the large bones has so-called stem cells. These stem cells can produce a considerable amount of blood cells, whenever they receive a signal.
Kidneys play a critical role in giving feedback to the brain about the quality of blood, its oxygen saturation, its pressure, and so on. So if kidneys sense that there are not enough RBCs to carry oxygen, they release a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). EPO stimulates the production of RBCs in the bone marrow. Thus, forming a complete loop.
If the kidney is damaged due to some disease, it may not produce enough of EPO, thus causing anemia or deficiency of RBCs. Fortunately, researchers now know the structure of EPO, they can also create this hormone on an industrial scale. EPO is used in medicine to treat anemia or RBCs deficiency.
It can help both during the training and competition. While training, it improves blood flow to muscles, thus less fatigue and more repetitions. It also stimulates the growth of tissues a bit. During the competition, it can improve endurance. That is why it is more extensively used in sports needing high stamina. Cycling or marathon are examples of such sports.
Recent use of EPO can be detected in blood. EPO has a very short half-life and is quickly cleared from the body. It means that detecting EPO, a month after the last injection would not be possible. However, its effect on performance would continue for about three months since the previous dose.
However, recent use of EPO can be detected by blood tests. The reason is simple, pharmaceutical grade EPO has a slightly different chemical structure than naturally occurring EPO. Thus researchers can say for sure if the detected EPO is of natural origin or synthetic.
Certain other strategies are used by organs like WADA to detect the previous use of EPO. Using EPO at high doses can be shown by an elementary blood test. A person who abused EPO at high doses may have unnaturally high numbers of RBCs.
So the trick for not getting caught in tests is simple. Avoid using at high doses before the competition. Get your blood checked. If RBCs are at unnaturally high concentration, blood can be diluted with the help of normal saline.
In short, if EPO is used widely, it can help gain muscle mass by helping train better. It can boost performance in endurance sports.