Could platelet-rich plasma be used for doping?

I’ve written many times about platelet-rich plasma and talked about it in detail on my show. I have discussed what the treatment is, the theory behind why it was thought to speed the healing process, and the data about its effectiveness.

Drawing blood
Platelet-rich plasma involves drawing blood from the athlete, isolating the plasma with its growth-factor containing platelets, and reinjecting it into the injured area.
Platelet-rich plasma has received tremendous attention from athletes and the media for its theoretical benefits to speed the healing of injured tendons, ligaments, and muscle. While scientific evidence showing a definitive benefit has been lacking, many elite athletes undergo the procedure to try to return to sports faster.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has been concerned that PRP has an ergogenic effect. While PRP is currently allowed, concern that it could increase levels of growth factors that are currently banned still exists.

Also read:
Ask Dr. Geier – Platelet-Rich Plasma
Is platelet-rich plasma a true scientific breakthrough or just hype?

A study in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine by Amy S. Wasterlain et al looks at the effects of PRP injections and if they increase levels of growth factors within the body. They measured levels of six growth factors thought to be performance enhancing by WADA in 25 athletes receiving PRP injections.

The authors found that serum levels of three or ergogenic growth factors – IGF-1, VEGF and bFGF – increased significantly after PRP injections. They also found that the levels of these growth factors rose because the PRP started a biological process that led to the athletes’ bodies producing more of the growth factors, not from the growth factors within the injected PRP alone.

These findings lead to some important questions:

    Can a test be developed that can accurately determine if growth factors are elevated due to PRP injections instead of due to separate use (for performance-enhancing reasons)?

    Do these increases in growth factors, especially the increases from PRP injections, actually help improve performance?

    Should WADA revisit its prior ban on platelet-rich plasma?

Further research into these questions, and further research into whether or not platelet-rich plasma is effective for healing of sports injuries, is needed in the coming years.

Do you think that platelet-rich plasma has the potential to be misused for performance-enhancing reasons? How should WADA and sports organizations treat athletes who want to use it to treat injuries? Share your thoughts below!

The Dr. David Geier ShowDo surgeons promote treatments used on famous athletes to boost their clinical practices? In the Zone segment from Episode 3 of The Dr. David Geier Show.


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Wasterlain AS, Braun HJ, Harris AHS, Kim H-J, Dragoo JL. The Systemic Effects of Platelet-Rich Plasma Injection. Am J Sports Med. 2013;1(1):186-193.

7 Responses to Could platelet-rich plasma be used for doping?

  1. I think anything that helps anyone (including an athlete) recover from injury should be allowed. Like anything the treatment would have to be balanced with any potential long-term side effects.

    Beyond that, I don’t think athletes are going to be “juicing-up” with PRP. They could probably get the equivalent from Creatine, then I could be totally wrong.

    Enhancing the performance of anyone (again including athletes) should be allowed so long as it does not compromise long-term health. Coffee increases the efficiency or working-class adults (maybe it doesn’t?) and although the studies are mixed on it’s effect on health, it seems people have totally decided that it’s worth it (not all people; but it’s about as mainstream as a “drug” can get; it “amps” you up, affects your performance; I think it’s technically a xanthine (class of stimulants))

    Anyways, that’s my take.

  2. thre is a fine line, not always clearly demarcate-able, about the growth factors that emanate from PRP treatment and those that are introduced outside the athletes own blood sources. Are WADA capable of monitoring each treatment, even if they want to? Probably not. Is it possible to verify whether the treatment is purely to cure an existing medical condition, or for the concomitant growth factors and their influence on the athlete over an extended period? Most unlikely. Under these circumstances, this treatment should clearly be proscribed till further clarity is obtained about its medical use as opposed to the benefits it provides through growth hormones generated over an extended period of time in the athlete’s body.

  3. Dr David Geier: thank you for your clear, succinct explanation of the treatment and related issues. I do hope that this Pandora’s box is swiftly shut, till all these issues are finally, and unequivocally, resolved, before allowing athletes and sportspersons full access.

    • Dr. Anthony Galea (a big proponent of PRP) was caught importing HGH and other performance enhancing drugs into the US.

      Dr. Galea has been associated with Alex Rodriguez and other athletes that are believed to use performance enhancing drugs.

      It is highly likely PRP and other experimental and “therapeutic” treatments (like stem cell treatments)are being used by unscrupulous doctors to administer performance enhancing drugs like HGH and IGF-1 under the cover of “injury repair”.

      Rafael Nadal (Spanish tennis player) has had many of these experimental treatments for various injuries after sustaining suspicious (non-existent) injuries. Nadal always shows up stronger and performs better after lengthy “injury” layoffs that include these experimental treatments.

      • Jack, you could be right. I can’t speak to the levels of IGF-1 and other growth factors that result from PRP use other than this study.

  4. Hi. I am receiving PRP every month for neck and back pain. I have been getting it for 17 months now and have had over 20 something treatments ( I have lost count). I have not had success with anything else to help my neck pain. I will say though that my problem is still there, only I suffer less from pain, but it has been a weird journey through this as I am exhausted after treatments and I have stress. I am otherwise pretty healthy. My recent blood tests showed my urinalysis was off indicating a UTI, but I had no pain and the dr. didn’t even mention it, I found this out later looking at my results. I left that dr. needless to say. Also my creatinine was high at 1.01. I am female. I have never had my urnine so off before. Bun was low at 8 and ketones was a trace. I feel nothing. Can PRP have caused this? It is interesting that in the physical following almost a year into it, I have these results. Please let me know what you think. thanks.

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