The Shocking Truth About Donating Blood

You may donate blood because it feels like the right thing to do. But, is donating blood good for you?

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There is research that suggests that along with helping people in need, giving blood  may also have health benefits for the donor.

What The Research Says

Over the past few years, a series of medical studies have been published documenting heart health among people who donate blood versus those who don’t.

According to some of these studies, people who donate blood are actually at a lower risk for heart attack, diabetes and other medical conditions than non-donors.

One particular study by Charite-University Medical Centre in Berlin shows that blood donations can reduce cardiovascular risk in obese patients.

A separate study in Finland determined that men who donated blood had an 88% reduced risk of heart attack than non-blood donors.

How could that be?

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Why Giving Blood May Be Good For You

Less Blood May be Good For Your Heart

Dr. Gregory Sloop, an advocate of blood donations for health benefits, has stated that the probable explanation for this is a “reduced blood viscosity” (thickness) resulting directly from a donation. This reduced blood pressure makes it easier for the heart to pump blood.

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Donating Blood can Reduce Iron Levels

Donating a pint of blood significantly reduces iron levels. Iron, while an essential mineral for blood to carry oxygen, can be toxic in large quantities.

Iron overload can cause serious medical problems, and genetic disorders that cause too much iron absorption are believed to affect as many as 5 in every 1,000 white Americans.

Men store iron in their bloodstreams at a much higher rate than premenopausal women, so giving blood may be especially beneficial to men over the age of 25. This is when a man’s risk for heart attacks begins increasing with his rising iron levels, and donating blood may be one easy way to keep them under control.

Giving blood may also be useful for the elderly. One study of over 1,000 white Americans aged 67 – 96 found that although 3% had deficient levels of iron in their blood, 13% had too much iron.

Too much iron can increase a person’s risk for diabetes, liver disease, heart failure, and severe joint pain.

All in all, the benefits you get from giving blood may go beyond feeling good about yourself.

So Why Doesn’t the Red Cross Shout this From the Rooftops?

So, if the Red Cross needs blood, and donating blood is good for the donor, why aren’t these benefits promoted more? Dr. Sloop offers a reason:

“The priority of organizations which collect blood for transfusion is to provide the safest product possible. Historically, the safest blood has been from the altruistic donor. The blood supply is regulated by the FDA, which insists that blood collection organizations, in their efforts to solicit and recruit people as donors, do not directly promote any benefit to the blood donor.”

Does this mean that the Red Cross is hamstrung by the FDA?

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But Wait…

Although studies seem to show that giving blood does offer some health benefits for a subset of the population, the Red Cross doesn’t seem to agree.

We contacted Dr. Anne Eder, the Executive Medical Officer of the Red Cross, who stated, “hypotheses regarding the benefits of reducing iron stores or blood viscosity with blood donation (lower cardiac disease risk) in healthy volunteers have not been substantiated.”

That said, Dr. Eder does believe that giving blood offers other benefits to the donor:

“A safe blood supply depends on healthy, altruistic volunteers. Blood donors will have their blood pressure checked at each donation, and will receive advice on hydration and good nutrition after blood donation. Most blood donors feel good after giving blood, and feel good about helping others.”

So it seems certain authorities in the medical community agree to disagree for now, until more research is conducted to provide sufficient evidence for either side.

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The Takeaway

While there is debate among the medical community, and more widespread research needs to be done, some studies seem to show that donating blood can be good for people at risk of metabolic syndrome, men with high iron levels, elderly Caucasians with access to a Western diet, and those who are extremely overweight.

Just make sure that you’re eligible to donate to protect yourself and the person receiving your life-saving gift. And as always, consult your physician so you can decide together whether blood donation is right for you.

Photo by clevercupcakes



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