Every 2 seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, according to the American Red Cross.
While giving blood and simply helping someone else who is in need should be enough of a reason to donate, there are a few other surprising benefits that you may not think or know about!
The concept of occasionally giving up some of your blood for better health is not a new concept. Bloodletting, anyone? For thousands of years, doctors used bloodletting as a first-line treatment for whatever ails you. From Egypt, to Greece, to medieval Europe. Got the plague? Bloodletting! Smallpox? Bloodletting! Epilepsy? Bloodletting!
Thankfully, we have advanced a bit in our medical treatments since that time. But, did those guys have anything right about losing a little blood in the pursuit of freedom from disease?
Free Health Check-Up
Before you give blood, you are required to have a quick physical that includes measuring body temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and the hemoglobin levels in your blood. After your blood is collected, it undergoes testing for infectious diseases, like HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C. If any test results come back positive, you will be notified. You can also learn what blood type you are! (B-positive over here!)
However, this is no excuse to skip seeing your doctor for a yearly check-up, but it can help give peace of mind.
A single donation can save the lives of up to three people
Lower Risk of Heart Disease
The American Journal of Epidemiology has found that blood donors are 88% less likely to suffer a heart attack.
It is unsure why this is exactly.
Possibly, repeated blood donations may help blood flow in a way that is less damaging to the blood vessel lining.
Another possibility is that iron is removed from the body when someone gives blood, which can cut your risk of heart disease. There is a health condition known as hemochromatosis which is the excess absorption of iron by the body. This can be inherited or genetic or may be due to alcoholism, anemia, or other disorders. Regular donation reduces iron overload. Note: the American Red Cross does not currently accept as donors those who have hereditary hemochromatosis.
Or, simply, it’s not cause and effect at all and those who tend to donate blood regularly also may lead healthier lives in general than the rest of the population.
It usually takes 3 to 15 weeks for the body to replace the iron lost with donation, depending on how much iron was in your body before donation, your diet and lifestyle, and if you take any iron-containing supplements such as a multivitamin containing iron. No, you cannot replace all that iron all at once. Your body can only absorb so much. You should also be aware that supplementation of iron can lead to constipation, diarrhea, or upset stomach. Taking your iron supplement with food may help with these side effects. As always, talk with your doctor before starting any new supplements and ask what form and dosage would be best for you.
Lower Risk of Cancer
Regular blood donation has been associated with lowered risks for cancers, including liver, lung, colon, stomach, and throat cancers.
As with the reduced risk of heart disease, this may be because the reduction in iron levels, such as those experienced after blood donation, is linked with lower cancer risk.
Healthier Heart and Liver
Apparently it all comes down to iron, you guys. Heart and liver disease can be caused by iron overload in the body.
When eating an iron-rich diet, only a certain amount of iron can be absorbed and utilized by the body. Excess iron can be stored in the heart, liver, and pancreas. This leads to an increased risk of cirrhosis, liver failure, pancreatic damage, and heart problems such as irregular heartbeat.
Number of blood donors in the United States in a year:
1 pint of blood (the amount taken in a standard donation) weighs about 1 pound. Congratulations! You just lost a pound.
In all seriousness though, donating blood is probably not going to get you your dream beach body, but according to researchers at the University of California – San Diego estimate that your body burns about 650 calories to replace that pint of blood.
How Do I Donate?
While there are several agencies through which you can donate blood, there will probably be an American Red Cross donation opportunity near you. You can go to their website and search and book an appointment for local donation stations as well as read donation eligibility requirements and tips for first time donors.
An estimated 38% of the population is eligible to donate blood at any given time –
less than 10% of that eligible population will actually donate each year
How Do I Prepare?
Maintain an adequate iron level by eating iron-rich foods like red meat, spinach, beans, raisins, and iron-fortified cereals and foods high in vitamin C like citrus fruits, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Drink extra water. Eat a healthy meal before donation – avoiding fatty foods.
Wear clothing that allows your elbow to be exposed. Feel free to bring headphones so that you can listen to music or a podcast to help you relax.
Enjoy your complimentary snack and drink in the refreshments area immediately after donating. Drink extra water and avoid alcohol for the next 24 hours. Avoid heavy lifting or vigorous exercise for the rest of the day. Keep the bandage on for the next few hours.
You may donate blood every 56 days or 8 weeks for whole blood donation and 112 days or 16 weeks for power (double) red donations.
I first donated blood as a part of National Honor Society back in high school. Since that time, I have regularly donated whenever I have been able to find the opportunity, especially when I was in college and there always seemed to be a blood drive on campus. I have memories of going with my father to donation sites and reading to him while he donated and I suppose some of that altruism rubbed off on me. I have good veins, I have good blood, and it helps someone who is in need… so why not?
The two most common reasons cited by people who do not give blood are: “Never thought about it” and “I don’t like needles”