Is Blood Doping a Placebo Effect?

This post is based on a piece by Chris Cooper titled “Blood Doping: Was Lance Armstrong just wasting his time? in the Comment Section of the July 15 2017 issue of the New Scientist.

There have been many previous posts on the placebo effect (just enter “placebo” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). This article is based on a Dutch study that used amateur riders injecting either EPO, the blood doping drug used by Lance Armstrong, or saline. So all bicycle riders in a road race thought they were being given EPO, but only half received EPO injections and the other half receive saline injections. No difference was found in the performance of the two groups.

This study needs to be replicated, and HM suggests the following addition, and that is the addition of a group that receives neither injection. A placebo effect is expected, so the saline group should perform better than the no injection control. Both the placebo group and the saline group should outperform the no injection group This result would be important. Chris Cooper suggests that, as these cyclists were not elite competitors, the blood oxygen content may not have been limiting performance in the amateurs. Research to determine if EPO only enhances performance when blood oxygen content limits performance would also be informative.

It would also be interesting to try to convince several veteran participants in the Tour de France bicycle race that there was an effective way of making EPO doping undetectable, and then fool any dishonest riders into taking a placebo. Now suppose they either won the race or performed much better than expected. Then wouldn’t it be humorous if these doping agencies prohibited placebos?

There was another report on placebos in the Significant Digits piece on 20 July 2017 FiveThirtyEight Blog. It reports a 2014 knee pain study comparing elective surgical procedures and sham surgeries. People undergoing the sham surgery were aware that it was sham. The study found that faking a surgery (doing all the fasting and knocking them out and fake incisions and the whole routine) provided some benefit to the ailment in 74% of the cases and was as effective as the actual elective surgery in roughly half the time. HM thinks that the placebo effect is the most interesting of all medical effects. The placebo effect wide applications.


© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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