Blood doping by cobalt. Should we measure cobalt in athletes?

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Background: Blood doping is commonplace in competitive athletes who seek to enhance their aerobic performances through illicit techniques. Presentation of the hypothesis: Cobalt, a naturally-occurring element with properties similar to those of iron and nickel, induces a marked and stable polycythemic response through a more efficient transcription of the erythropoietin gene. Testing the hypothesis: Although little information is available so far on cobalt metabolism, reference value ranges or supplementation in athletes, there is emerging evidence that cobalt is used as a supplement and increased serum concentrations are occasionally observed in athletes. Therefore, given the athlete's connatural inclination to experiment with innovative, unfair and potentially unhealthy doping techniques, cobalt administration might soon become the most suited complement or surrogate for erythropoiesis-stimulating substances. Nevertheless, cobalt administration is not free from unsafe consequences, which involve toxic effects on heart, liver, kidney, thyroid and cancer promotion. Implications of the hypothesis: Cobalt is easily purchasable, inexpensive and not currently comprehended within the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. Moreover, available techniques for measuring whole blood, serum, plasma or urinary cobalt involve analytic approaches which are currently not practical for antidoping laboratories. Thus more research on cobalt metabolism in athletes is compelling, along with implementation of effective strategies to unmask this potentially deleterious doping practice.




Lippi, G., Franchini, M., & Guidi, G. C. (2006). Blood doping by cobalt. Should we measure cobalt in athletes? Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, 1(1).

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