RBC Front Loading
Could the proportion of red blood cells in a human's blood be increased in order to provide a greater amount of oxygen? I have read that the proportion can differ by as much as 5%. Is this true, and if so, what is the maximum proportion of red blood cells to plasma that would still allow a human to function? Could the level of red blood cells in blood be used to create a more oxygenated "superhuman"?
The maximum proportion of red blood cells (RBCs) to plasma that a body could withstand would vary by individual, but with too many RBCs, the heart and blood vessels would be taxed by the thickened/less fluid blood, possibly leading to heart attacks and strokes, among other potential side effects. The more oxygenated "superhuman" already has been attempted/created, for example in endurance athletes such as Tour de France bicycle riders (Lance Armstrong among the most notorious) use of drugs (e.g., Erythropoietin) and self blood transfusion have been used to increase RBCs and maximum oxygen capacity and thus boost performance. Although such techniques are considered cheating and are strictly banned, the natural variation in RBCs among individuals has allowed some cheaters to escape detection from testing for long periods of time, and it's often facility raids and paper trails that lead to discovery of the cheating, rather than direct blood testing of the athletes.
Don Yee Ph.D.
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Update: November 2011