Lasse Viren, the Finnish distance runner, surprised many when he won double gold medals on the track in 5,000m and 10,000m at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics; he even came 5th in the marathon, a discipline he’d never run. Allegations of blood doping arose when Viren, who always denied them, claimed that altitude training and ‘reindeer milk’ were the keys to his enhanced performance.
Blood doping wasn’t made illegal in sports until 1986, mainly because of the health risks. It’s a mucky process involving removing, storing, and transporting blood.
The process means the athlete has a quart or more of blood extracted before a major competition. This blood is frozen while the athlete trains to rebuild the blood to normal levels. Then just before racing, red cells from the extracted blood are transfused back, instantly increasing the body’s hemoglobin level and oxygen-carrying abilities. It instantly boosts endurance.
Blood doping was officially declared an illegal practice in 1986. But autologous blood doping, reinjecting your red blood cells back into your system, is not reliably traceable.
The similarities with Hemotherapies, which owe much to sporting research, cannot be denied. However, it is still a practice where many myths, scaremongering, and stories of vampires come to mind.
Hemotherapy, Hemotherapeutics, or AutoHemotherapy is the treatment of disease by using blood transfusion or blood donation.
Transfusion therapies have roots way back to even the use of leeches in English medicine and Chinese bloodletting hundreds of years ago.
Transfusion, as we know it, is used when a patient’s injury demands replenishment. It is also used when applying molecular biology in immunohematology and using precursor cells in clinical care.
Hemotherapy as a science is still in its infancy and growing, although it is often considered an alternative treatment.
The University of Barcelona and Barcelona Clinic have a Hemotherapy and Hemostasis service as part of their treatment of comprehensive care for patients with hemorrhagic and thrombotic diseases or congenital erythrocyte pathology. Its activity also includes antithrombotic therapies. They have two sections:
Hemotherapy Section. The Hemotherapy section has treatment in which the patient’s blood plasma is replaced. It is used in performing treatments of autoimmune diseases, microangiopathies, hypercholesterolemia, parasite infection or poisoning, and in the context of immunoadsorption procedures, such as in transplants with ABO incompatibility.
Hemostasis section. Provides care to patients with coagulation disorders in consultations, including administering blood products. It diagnoses, treatment, training, and follow-up of patients with bleeding problems, such as hemophilia, thrombotic disease, or antithrombotic therapy. The Erythropathology Consultation carries out the diagnosis and treatment of rare erythrocyte diseases.
It is still considered an alternative therapy, but clinics in the USA and other countries promote longevity treatments using Autohemotherapy. That involves the extraction of approximately ½ pint of the patient’s blood. Once safely extracted, the blood is mixed with a combination of saline and medical-grade ozone before it is returned to the patient through an IV drip over several minutes.
They claim it is a safe and effective treatment and that MAH enhances the cell biology of the patient through the interaction of blood with pure ozone. They say this type of ozone therapy has a healing effect on the body and promotes general wellness. Additionally, it is said by them to be an excellent way to treat disease, fight inflammation, and stimulate the immune system.
In Germany, what is known as Autologous blood or blood components collected before surgery are pharmaceutical products and are heavily regulated by various official bodies. They say the advantages of autologous hemotherapy include: the exclusion of rare adverse reactions like plasma-associated incompatibilities or transfusion-associated graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), formation of irregular erythrocyte blood group-specific alloantibodies or delayed hemolytic transfusion reactions and above all the avoidance of transmitting viral pathogens. However, Autologous blood donation and transfusion expose the patient to the same risks as homologous blood donors.
Each case of autologous hemotherapy requires exact decisions for or against hemotherapy, taking contraindications into account. Based on the necessary underlying data, minimum acceptable levels of intra- and postoperative hematocrit/hemoglobin, blood volume, and expected blood loss during the intended procedure, planning should be started as early as possible.
Current investigations document the benefit of preoperative autologous blood donation, particularly in cardiovascular surgery, hip replacement, and spinal surgery. However, other recent independent study shows there is no particular benefit.
German research appears to be way ahead of other countries in the regulations concerning Hemotherapy.
The German Guide for Obtaining Blood and Blood Components and for Application of Blood Products (Hemotherapy), the guides for transplantation of peripheral blood stem cells, bone marrow transplantation, and for cord blood stem cells as well as the recommendations of the German Society for Transfusion Medicine and Immunohematology on blood stem cell apheresis should be observed.