What Is EPO (Erythropoietin)?

EndurElite Chief Endurance Officer Matt Mosman discusses what EPO is, how EPO works, and why some endurance athletes choose to illegally use EPO.

What does EPO stand for?

EPO is short for erythropoietin. It was first isolated in 1977 from the urine of anemic patients and later isolated in 1983. Taking EPO is also termed blood doping.

How is erythropoietin made?

In the body, EPO is naturally made by cells in the kidney. These cells release EPO when blood oxygen is low by stimulating the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. This is turn enhances the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood via hemoglobin.

How is the synthetic drug EPO made?

Synthetic EPO is produced by combining four glycopeptides using recombinant DNA technology.

How does erythropoietin work?

Synthetic EPO, a drug, increases the body’s red blood cells to a greater extent.

This equals more hemoglobin which equals more oxygen going to working muscles.

What Are The Benefits Of EPO?

The benefits of EPO include:

  • Increases red blood cell count
  • Increased oxygen absorption by the body and muscles
  • Enhances endurance
  • Reduces fatigue
  • Increases metabolism
  • Improves the healing process of muscles

Erythropoietin Side Effects

Unfortunately, the dangers of EPO far outweigh the benefits. Most of the side effects occur due to EPO's blood thickening properties. The potential harms are:

  • Blood clotting and deep vein thrombosis
  • Heart attack and stroke
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Convulsions
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Bone aches
  • Increased risk of developing certain types of cancers

How EPO is taken

Athletes who choose to inject EPO illegally usually take 100-150 units per kilo body weight every 4-5 days in a cycle of 4-6 weeks. This cycle needs constant monitoring by doctors so that the athlete does not overdose (too thick blood).

Is EPO a banned substance?

Yes! EPO has been banned by WADA and other fair sports agencies since the early 1990s due to giving athletes an unfair advantage.

Is there a test to detect erythropoietin use?

According to WADA, "A test for EPO was introduced at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney (Australia). The test, validated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was based on the blood and urine matrix. A blood screening was performed first, and a urine test was then used to confirm the possible use of EPO.

What athletes have been caught using EPO?

Many amateur and professional athletes have been banned for using EPO. Some of these athletes include:

  • Lance Armstrong
  • Marion Jones
  • Ryan Lochte
  • Michelle Collins
  • Martin Fagan
  • Eddy Hellebuyck

Where to buy EPO

EPO can be bought from sources in China and overseas. However, individuals doing this should be aware that this may not be real EPO and injecting it could have severe consequences, including death.

How much does it cost?

The average cost of EPO sold in the United States is $120 for 10,000 units

The bottom line

Synthetic EPO is a dangerous, illegal, and banned substance. Athletes should avoid this compound and stick to sound training and nutrition principles to improve athletic performance.

About the author

About The Author Matt Mosman - Spearfish, South Dakota

Matt Mosman (MS, CISSN, CSCS) is a research scientist, endurance athlete, and the founder and Chief Endurance Officer at EndurElite. Matt holds his B.S. in Exercise Science from Creighton University and his M.S. in Exercise Physiology from the University of California. Matt and his family reside in Spearfish South Dakota where they enjoy running, mountain biking, camping, and all the outdoor adventures Spearfish has to offer.