There’s no doubt about it — donating blood saves lives. Every two seconds in the U.S., someone needs blood. A single blood donation might save up to three lives.
But could the life you save be your own? Maybe, and not in a convoluted, getting-back-the-blood-you-gave-earlier kind of way. In fact, donating blood can have great health benefits for the donor as well as the recipient. It can lower your blood pressure, protect you from cancer, support your heart and liver health, and more. Let’s take a look at how you can bolster your own health by giving blood to help those in need.
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Hereditary hemochromatosis is a disease in which the body produces too much blood. The treatment is to remove some blood every few months. People with this disease are otherwise healthy, and their blood is perfectly safe for a donation — in fact, many people with this condition prefer to donate their excess blood rather than have it go to waste.
You may not have been diagnosed with hemochromatosis, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have it. It’s one of those silent diseases that doesn’t show many symptoms until serious liver disease and other health problems occur due to excess iron in the body. There’s no harm in donating blood, and it just might save you from health complications you didn’t even know were possible.
It might seem counterintuitive to say that donating blood can support your heart health. But regular blood donation has actually been linked to a reduced risk of heart attacks and lower blood pressure. When you think about it, it makes sense that giving blood would lower your blood pressure — after all, if you have a little less blood in your blood vessels, that will naturally lower the pressure your blood places on your blood vessels as it flows through your body.
According to research published in the >American Journal of Epidemiology, regularly giving blood can lower your risk of a heart attack by as much as 88 percent. That’s because regular blood donations can relieve high blood pressure, but it also has to do with depleting some of the iron stores in your body. Iron in your blood can tighten and restrict your blood vessels, increasing your risk of a heart attack.
Interestingly, it’s been found that most men benefit from the heart-protective effects of giving blood regularly. It’s believed that women are less reliant on blood donation to safeguard cardio health because they regularly lose blood during menstruation, which can have the same effect on cardiovascular health as donating blood. Of course, that’s not to suggest that women can’t also benefit physically from donating blood — indeed, far from it.
Hepatitis C, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and other liver diseases may be linked to excess iron in the blood. Because blood donation is an effective way to remove some of those excess iron stores from the blood, giving blood regularly can protect your liver from disease. It can even offer some measure of protection from liver diseases like NAFLD, which are related to metabolic disorders.
If you’re a healthy person, then giving blood might not do much to lower your cancer risk. That said, iron in your blood can cause free radical damage to your body’s cells, and that kind of oxidative stress is thought to play a role in cancer development. If you have a disease like a hemochromatosis, which causes excess iron stores to accumulate in your body, or an arterial disease like peripheral artery disease (PAD), then having blood removed regularly could lower your cancer risk.
Health care costs are out of control in the United States, but all blood donors receive a free health screening to make sure they’re eligible to give blood. It’s not as thorough as a regular physical, but a medical professional will take your vital signs and measure your blood pressure, which could help identify health issues you may not have been aware of. Your donated blood will also be screened for infections, and you’ll be notified if your donation is flagged for viral or other infections.
Of course, if you donate blood and the nurse or doctor tells you you have a health problem that makes you ineligible to give blood, you should follow up with your regular doctor. That’s especially true if your blood has been found to be infected with a virus because it’s very common for those viral screening tests to send back false positives.
Giving blood saves lives — and it could have benefits for your health as well as for the patients who receive your blood. Donate blood regularly, and enjoy a longer life and better health.
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