The Health Benefits from Donating Blood

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Donating blood actually offers many more health benefits than most would expect.

Not only will you help someone in need of blood, but you'll also be helping your own body optimize its health and wellness.

This is an interesting fact that many people are completely unaware of.

Below, we'll explore the top three health benefits you can reap from the act of donating blood.

Donating Blood Protects Your Heart by Reducing Oxidative Stress

Iron in your blood can oxidize resulting in damage to your cells and tissues. The increase in oxidative stress is most dangerous to your cardiovascular system.

According to a study published by the American Medical Association, giving blood every six months led to fewer heart attacks and strokes in test participants ages 43 to 61. Excessive iron is thought to contribute to heart disease, especially at its early stages.

Donating blood on a regular basis reduces the iron stores in the body and this study supports the theory that reducing iron appears to preserve cardiovascular health.

A second study of 2,682 men in Finland, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that men who donated blood at least once a year had an 88 percent lower risk of heart attacks than non-donors. This same group of researchers published a follow-up study and found that men who donated blood were less likely than non-donors to show any signs of cardiovascular disease.1

Donating Blood Protects Against Developing Cancer

Give blood to help lower your risk of cancer. According to the Miller-Keystone Blood Center, consistent blood donation is associated with lowered risks for cancers including liver, lung, colon, stomach and throat cancers.2

Risk levels dropped in correlation with how often participants donated blood. The association between lower cancer risk and donating blood might also stem from reducing oxidative stress. Free radical compounds can damage your DNA. Damaged genetic material is the hallmark of all cancers.

Donating Blood Gets You a Free Blood Analysis

After donating, your blood will be tested for syphilis, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), hepatitis and other factors. The center will notify you if tests show you may be unhealthy. Your blood will not be used if it could make someone sick.

References

  1. Availabe at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3003499. Accessed July 1, 2010. 
  2. Duthie SJ. J Inherit Metab Dis. 2010 Jun 11.

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14 comments:

Barbara said...

“Iron in your blood can oxidize resulting in damage to your cells and tissues. The increase in oxidative stress is most dangerous to your cardiovascular system. … Excessive iron is thought to contribute to heart disease, especially at its early stages. Donating blood on a regular basis reduces the iron stores in the body and this study supports the theory that reducing iron appears to preserve cardiovascular health.”
Wow who knew that Iron, something you need, can also cause damage? It’s so important to find the right balance of vitamins and supplements to live a long and healthy life.

Paul Wakfer said...

The points made in favor of blood donations are all valid and I used to donate fairly regularly. However several years ago I began to learn about the immune reducing and aging effects of white blood cell exhaustion. Current blood donations affect this directly because donation of whole blood dilutes one's white blood cell supply including cells that are already primed by previous infections to fight off new ones (memory cells), Even worse, this constant dilution requires the hemopoietic stem cells to divide and produce new white blood cells even more than they normally need to do so to produce red blood cells - which lack a nucleus and die off every few months. Such constant division will eventually cause immune senescence (as happens with any chronic infection - particularly evident with AIDS).

Since I gained that new knowledge, and particularly since I began to eat little red meat (which both lowered my homocysteine and keeps my iron stores naturally low), I have not donated (although I may again soon to get updates of the free test results that they do - importantly including CMV (cytomegalovirus) which being a chronic infection itself can greatly hasten immune cell senescence).

Now if the Red Cross really wanted to attract more health conscious donors, they would develop a system to filter out only the blood components which they wanted for a particularly type of donation and return the rest to the donor - as they already to for platelet donations. Better still would be for the Red Cross to both do this *and* to themselves advertise the benefits of blood donations for the donor him/herself - but the philosophy/politics of this last is a subject for another message.

Life Extension said...

Hello Paul. Thank you for your insight and sharing your story. Although a "dilution affect" is plausible, the benefits generally outweigh the risks -- for both the donor and the recipient. At the same time, we totally understand your point and concern!

Paul Wakfer said...

"the benefits generally outweigh the risks" is an entirely subjective and relative statement and below I give more elaboration of why that is so. Regarding "for both the donor and the recipient", unless one acts first for one's own benefit (but always without *harm* to others), which could quite directly be for another who is highly valued by the donor, one is acting against one's fundamental purpose of existence, and, more practically, if one acts consistently altruistically then one will not be around long enough to highly benefit others in any case.

Perhaps I did not well communicate my point. I am entirely in agreement (for the reasons which your blog entry stated) that acute and even multiple blood donations are beneficial particularly for young to middle aged men who all generally have far too much body stores of iron. (Menstruating females and older persons are another story, particularly since they are far less likely to have too much body iron.) However there are several caveats in order:

1, One should not donate blood if one has first had tests of iron stores (in fact the Red Cross will not take blood from someone with a low hematocrit - which also generally indicates low iron stores).
2. One should not donate blood if one has any tendency to get infections easily since such donations deplete many immune factors. If one searches the web, one can find many reports of negative immune effects after plasma donations and once these ceased such effects no longer occurred. Here are some examples: http://www.medhelp.org/posts/Allergy/donating-plasma-does-effect-my-immune-system/show/4244 - granted that these are all anecdotal. No scientific studies of potential negative effects of blood donations of different types appears to have been done.
3. One should not donate blood on a chronic basis in order to lower iron and to keep it low, all the while continuing to eat a high iron diet. *This* last and most important for all healthy people is what I was trying to make clear before. I do not think my suggestion of an immune dilution effect is merely "plausible", particularly when/if blood donations are done chronically over many years of life (as some people do and are even urged to do). Such chronic small dilutions will add up to a very large and multiple lifetime dilution of immune factors and will hasten the immunosenescence which has been written about as part of the aging phenotype in many studies, eg. http://pmid.us/19715573 Therefore my suggestion is on good evidence of the way the immune system operates (but unfortunately no direct studies of chronic blood donors) and is particularly for those life extensionists who really wish to maximize their healthy lifespan. Rather one should instead find a dietary, exercise and supplemental regimen which naturally keeps iron stores below a dangerous level (but not so low that one's hemoglobin and energy levels are negatively affected).

Daniel said...

I think you can donate RBC only and ask for everything else back

Life Extension said...

You can but that's cost more money and time for the blood bank. It's easier to just give it all to them and let them keep it!

Jim said...

Iron is both good and bad. Just a question of balance.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/36060900/GIT-Blood-Loss

http://www.scribd.com/doc/36060836/Iron-Status-Exercising-Women-1991

http://www.scribd.com/doc/36060762/Beef-Exercise

http://www.scribd.com/doc/35597624/McClung-J-Am-Coll-Nutr-2006

http://www.scribd.com/doc/35597577/McClung-AJCN-09

Life Extension said...

Jim, you are absolutely right! Without iron, we would all be anemic.

Anonymous said...

You can donate red blood cells only through the use of an apheresis machine. The machine separates out the red blood cells and returns the other blood components to you. You can donate two units of red blood cells to the Red Cross and other organizations by this method. It's called "Double red blood cell donation".

Unknown said...

This is true as I do this every 4 months. Helps keep my RBC's in check along with my iron and hematocrat levels.

Anonymous said...

Paul is typical of people today. Hopefully he never needs blood and if he does he better pry there are stil decent people that donated.

Unknown said...

Paul Wafker's points "sound valid" and I don't blame him for expressing them, this IS a life extension blog! However, Paul, should your theory not be proving out in increased cancer mortality. It appears the contrary is the actual reality..."Iron has been thought of to increase free-radical damage in the body and has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and aging says a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers followed 1,200 people split into groups of two over the course of 4 ½ years. One group reduced their iron stores by blood donations twice a year whereas the other group did not make any changes. The results of the study showed that the group of blood donors had lower iron levels, and a lower risk of cancer and mortality."

The body is complex and theories abound. You need to look at epidemiological evidence as the end game don't you? Curious on your opinion... Was the study too short term for you? Strange mortality would go down if it was at all depleting of immune function.

Anonymous said...

RBC are in very high demand! but for ARC have to be certain blood type O+-, A-, B- AND there is height + weight requirement 155 M + 175 F.

Anonymous said...

^^^^^Anonymous, your incorrect on your height/weight requirements. It depends on the machine that is being used. But yes dRBC's are very in demand, especially those particular types!

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