Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Marcel Kittel, Blood Irradiation And Cycling: The Facts

In recent months Argos-Shimano's Marcel Kittel has become a beacon of anti-doping with some strong comments via his twitter account - though Kittel is not without Scandal, having been implicated in the practise of UV Light blood irradiation in 2007 and 2008 which remained legal in cycling until January 2011, no crime there then and Marcel Kittel has since been cleared of any wrongdoing German Sports Arbitration court but today the German National Anti-Doping Agency announced it will appeal that decision to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport. So what is 'Photo-oxidation therapy' or 'blood irradiation', and is Marcel in hot water?...

'Photo-oxidation therapy is also known as Photoluminescence or Ultraviolet Blood Irradiation (UVB). A photo-oxidation (UVB Therapy) treatment consists exposing a sample of the blood to an ultraviolet (UV Ultraviolet "C" Light) light briefly.'

Marcel Kittel was originally referred to Dr Andreas Franke at an Olympic training camp having been suffering with a cold, other athletes at the same camp were also subjected to the treatment which involved the removal and reinjection of a small amount of blood via a syringe. The treatment is alleged to help maintain a healthy immune system and fight bacterial infection and this is the circumstance under which Kittel appears to have been treated for. There are, however said to be other effects:

  • Inactivation of toxins
  • Destruction and inhibition of growth of bacteria
  • Increase in the oxygen-combining power of the blood and oxygen transportation to organs
  • Activation of steroid hormones
  • Vasodilation
  • Activation of white blood cells
  • Immuno-stimulation of cellular and humoral immunity
  • Stimulation of fibrinolysis
  • Decreased viscosity of blood
  • Stimulation of corticosteroid production
  • Decreased platelet aggregation
  • Improved micro circulation and oxygenation of tissues.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Increased tolerance of the body towards radiation or chemotherapy
  • Cardiovascular protection through increased metabolism of cholesterol, uric acid, and glucose
  • Resolution of vascular spasms
  • Powerful anti-infection properties

    Some of these 'effects' you will note seem rather beneficial to a cyclist - getting a better supply of oxygen to muscle tissue and organs is gold dust to an athlete, anything with an anti-inflammatory effect is also valuable. So far though, I have been quoting a company who's main goal is to sell Photo-oxidation Therapy as a treatment, though they themselves are quoting a 1940's science paper, so does modern science really stand up to their claims?

    The short answer is 'not really'. There is not a great deal of information or study around the use of Photo-oxidation Therapy as a performance enhance, but those there are suggest that any of the above effects would be short-lived and ineffective on enhancing performance during major cardiovascular activity with results similar to using a 'placebo'. Put simply, its about as useful as coffee and if it's better use of oxygen and nitrates that you are after, beetroot juice is wholly more effective.
    So what's the problem then? The main problem is that the rules on blood doping during that period were open to interpretation. During Kittels UV phase the rulebook stated that "blood doping" and “Artificially enhancing the uptake, transport or delivery of oxygen” were banned. This could easily get lost in translation but essentially the withdrawal and reintroduction of blood during photo-oxidation would happen over to shorter time span for any benefits in terms of reintroduction of oxidised blood, therefor it doesn't appear to fit in with 'delivery of oxygen' line. The wording is however clearly arguable, especially the phrase 'blood doping'.

    Since January 2011 the rulebook states: “sequential withdrawal, manipulation and reintroduction of any quantity of whole blood into the circulatory system” is banned. The clearer wording of course makes the whole practise of photo-oxidation in the current climate a no go area. The Kittel incident was pre-2011, so he's innocent of any wrongdoing right?

    In lamens terms, yes, or at least it looks that way but the challenge to CAS will of course stir the debate up once again and the original rule is somewhat open to interpretation. What is certain though is Marcel Kittle may be feeling a little silly tonight, I'm glad of his anti-doping stance and long may it continue but for an athlete with such a strong stance it should have been plain for him to see that getting mixed up in needles and blood specifically was always going to be risky business. The UCI is still yet to announce who will receive the remaining WorldTour licences for 2013, and this could be an untimely blip in Argos-Shimano's otherwise impenetrable stance on clean competition.

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