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Donating Blood Is Good for Your Health
By Puja Gandhi, MD
We all know that blood donations help others – as a single pint of blood can save up to three lives – but you may not be aware that donating blood also offers some surprising health benefits to donors.
Creates Helper’s High
Selfless service to others can create “helper’s high,” a feeling of elation, exhilaration, and increased energy, followed by a time of calm and serenity. It’s a mental health benefit that many blood donors experience from knowing they’re helping to save lives. This can, in turn, contribute to better physical health and longevity.
Lowers Risk of Cancer
Studies in the American Journal of Epidemiology and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggest that regular blood donation may lower the risk of cancer by releasing oxidized iron from the bloodstream. Oxidized iron, which produces harmful free radicals, can build up in the bloodstream and cause cancers, particularly those of the liver, lung, colon, and esophagus.
Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
Excessive oxidized iron in the body can also be harmful to cardiovascular health. In 1998, the American Journal of Epidemiology published research that suggested blood donation is associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes, so much so that regular blood donors are 88% less likely than non-donors to have a heart attack, according to the evidence in the published study. This is backed up by similar studies in the Journal of Transfusion and the Journal of the American Medical Association, which both show there’s strong evidence that blood donation lowers iron stores in the blood and liver and reduces blood viscosity, which places less stress on the arteries and blood vessels and slows blood clotting that can cause heart attack and stroke.
May Slow Down the Aging Process
I’m not going to suggest that blood donation is the fountain of youth, but the fact that it does reduce free radicals in the bloodstream can possibly play a role in delaying the aging process. A study in the Journal of Basic Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology found that donating blood decreases oxidative stress, which can lead to cell and tissue damage and, in turn, aging.
While blood donation should never be used as a weight loss strategy, it has been shown that blood donors can burn up to 650 calories during the donation process. This is due to your body using extra energy to replace the amount of donated blood and synthesize new proteins, red blood cells, and other blood components. Notably, this is also why donors have to meet minimum weight (110+ pounds) and age (16+) requirements to donate blood safely.
Boosts Liver Health
Regularly donating blood can improve liver health by removing excess iron from the body. The liver’s job is to remove toxins from the body, but it can’t do this effectively when it has a buildup of oxidized iron. Excess iron can cause cellular damage, which results in liver cirrhosis and other medical issues. Donating blood on a regular basis can remove excess iron from the body before it has a chance to deposit into the liver.
Provides a Free Blood Test
Before you can donate, you have to undergo a health screening to ensure you’re healthy enough to give blood. Your vitals, such as pulse and blood pressure levels, are checked as well as hemoglobin levels. Your blood will also be screened for several serious illnesses. In essence, this serves as a mini medical exam at no cost to you.
Blood Donation Tips
Ready to roll up your sleeves and help save lives while improving your own health? Here are some tips to help ensure a safe, successful blood donation.
Before your blood donation appointment:
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Eat a meal with iron-rich foods, like meat, beans, or iron-fortified cereal.
- Drink extra fluids but avoid caffeinated beverages since they can cause dehydration.
- Choose clothing that can allow your sleeves to be raised above the elbow.
After you donate blood:
- Stand up slowly and rest in the donation center’s lounge for a few minutes.
- Enjoy a drink and snack offered by the donation center to avoid weakness and dizziness.
- Drink extra liquids but avoid alcohol over the next 24 hours.
- Avoid heavy lifting or vigorous exercise for the rest of the day.
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