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What Are the Dangers of Blood Doping?

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Blood doping is one of the simplest way to improve your race time. By taking erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone usually produced by the liver and kidneys, you trigger your bone marrow to overproduce red blood cells, in effect boosting oxygen capacity. The result, as seven Tour de France titles show, is a boon for endurance, muscle recovery, and overall performance. It’s one hell of an enhancement—and it works fast too—but what's the downside?

“There are a few pretty substantial risks,” says Dr. Philip Friere Skiba, program director of sports medicine at Lutheran General Hospital. The most common is a blood clot that can lead to heart attack, stroke, or even sudden death in your sleep. “Increasing the blood count makes it more viscous,” says Skiba. “We call this ‘sludging,’ which can slow down your heart rate and cause clots.” To avoid the so-called sludging, you have to keep that heart pumping. There are stories of some doping athletes waking up in the middle of the night and doing jumping jacks to keep it moving. Others, at least anecdotally, weren’t so lucky, dying in their sleep.

Years from now, taking EPO to up your red blood cells will likely be considered as archaic as giving yourself a blood transfusion from saved bags of blood (like the first dopers did). Instead, we’ll turn to genetic tinkering for more oxygen. One study showed that by imparting such genes to monkeys, researchers could permanently up the amount of EPO that their bodies created. The problem for these unfortunate animals was the runaway blood cells caused their bodies to turn on the EPO hormone and fight it like a virus. The monkeys eventually died of anemia (or lack of red blood cells). If we learn how to give that gene an on/off switch, however—something that’s exceedingly difficult to do in genetic research today—we could regulate red blood cells for life. This would give you that untraceable edge for all your endurance sports. 

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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