The life saving benefits of donating blood (and it’s not what you may think!)

The life you save through donating blood might be your own!

Research reveals an 88% reduction in risk of heart-attack for those who donate blood!

This statistic is based on a study in Finland of 2682 men who donated blood at least once a year. Other studies conducted in relation to cancer and blood donation have shown significant reduction in rates of various cancers including liver, lung, colon, and throat tumors. I came across another  study the other day that also suggested blood donating may be of value in improving insulin sensitivity, thus helpful for folks with diabetes. So why all this goodness from donating blood, you might ask? The consensus is that giving blood reduces several risk factors:

  • Firstly it thins the blood thus reducing its viscosity.  This is important because thick, sludgy blood doesn’t  flow so well and can lead to blockages in blood vessels i.e. a heart attack!
  • Secondly blood donating removes excess iron from the body.  Contrary to popular belief, it seems that too much iron is probably a more significant risk factor in the western diet than being deficient.  Excess iron can apparently lead to oxidative damage of various tissues including blood vessels, thus arteries get corroded and blocked.   The damaging action of too much iron is considered to be a risk factor in some cancers as well.  And some studies suggest that iron can reduce insulin sensitivity, which is a major issue with diabetes.
  • And there is also some calorie-burning thrown in; the usual 500ml donation burns about 600 calories!

bloodlettingThis is not an exhaustive list of benefits, but it should be more than enough to get you donating; and let’s not forget it greatly helps others in need. It puzzles me as to why these benefits are not more widely touted, especially by organizations wishing to receive blood donations.  If a drug caused such a dramatic reduction in cardiac risk with absolutely no side-effects I’m sure it would be promoted enthusiastically. I can only surmise that it’s because blood-letting as a medical intervention for illness, which has a 3000 year old history across numerous cultures, fell out of favor in the late 19th century and became a thing of medical mockery.  I have been aware of the literature on blood-donating for a couple of years now but only got around to actually start giving blood this January.  I am making it a regular habit once every three months as suggested by The Red Cross. Maybe that 3000 year old practice had something to offer after all!

Best wishes, good health

Dr. Josh

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