Blood donation is a noble gesture that can save others’ lives. The good news and overwhelming discoveries are that recent studies demonstrate that blood donation also has a lot of benefits for blood donors that you should know. We’ll discuss all those benefits and even one particular case in which donating blood kept a man’s diseases at bay.
Blood donation in the US and the European Union
In the US, there are almost 7 million donors each year. Out of the 38% of Americans eligible for donation, only 10% are actually donating blood regularly.
In EU, a survey conducted in recent years concluded that 10% of the population donates blood in Denmark, 9% in England, 8% in the Netherlands, 6% in Germany, 4% in Hungary, while in the Eastern European countries the percentages are around 2%. Thus, in latter countries, there is a major blood deficit, donors providing only 60% of the total needed.
In most countries, in exchange for the donated blood, which usually means 450 ml per donation (a quantity that is recovered in a few hours), the donors receive a money reward or other material benefits.
The rules for accepting a person to donate blood are strict in order to avoid blood infected with HIV, syphilis, hepatitis of type B and C, or other infectious diseases:
- no piercing and no tattoos are done for at least six weeks prior to donation
- no unprotected sexual intercourse with more than two partners
- no unprotected sexual intercourse with same-sex partners
With the donor’s consent, the blood will be tested to find the blood group and screening for infections. If the tests reveal a health problem, the donor will be informed and advised for specialist advice.
How much blood is given on one blood donation?
Regularly, 450 ml of blood are donated on each donation. After the blood donation, it is recommended to maintain the horizontal position for another 10-15 minutes to avoid side effects.
It is recommended to avoid physical effort and alcohol consumption after donation. Liquid consumption will be supplemented for 2-3 days after donation, and the diet should be rich in animal protein (egg, meat).
What health benefits the blood donors have?
Researchers in the UK have shown that donating blood reduces the risks of developing heart diseases and cardiovascular attacks, and also diminishes the risks of developing cancer.
The benefits of blood donation seem to come from reducing the level of iron in the blood.
Iron in the blood influences how thick or sticky the texture of the blood is. High levels of iron lead to the fattening of the blood, so it will flow harder through the arteries.
Also, a high level of iron in blood oxidizes and produces cholesterol. The higher the viscosity of the blood is, the more increase the deposits in the arteries and this, naturally, leads to cardiovascular diseases.
So, by donating blood, a quantity of iron is lost in the blood, but this has a protective and beneficial effect if the blood donation takes place periodically, and not incidentally.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in the US, people aged between 43 and 61 have a much lower rate of cardiac diseases incidence if they are periodic blood donors.
Researchers have also demonstrated that there is a link between the amount of iron in the blood and the risk of cancer.
In line with this theory, another 5-year study conducted on 2,300 people found that people who donate blood twice a year have a lower cancer rate and mortality than those who do not donate blood.
It should be noted, however, that these benefits occur due to blood donations at regular intervals and not incidental.
In addition, a study done in the Netherlands, on a group of over 3,000 men, demonstrated that men have reduced their chance of a cardiovascular incident by almost 90%, only by donating blood regularly.
Another notable effect is the calorie loss that occurs upon blood donation.
After blood donation, the body needs to recover all the lost blood volume, and in a period of 4-8 weeks after the donation, the organism recovers all the white cells that were lost.
Researchers at the University of California, in San Diego, are of the opinion that for every 250 ml of donated blood, around 600 calories are burnt.
Donating Blood Kept a Man’s Disease at Bay
This is the true story of an 83-years-old male from the US who was a regular blood donor since his 20s, and so he managed to keep at bay the symptoms of the genetic disease he was suffering from, without even know it.
This man’s case report was done by Kohtaro Ooka, an internal resident at Yale University. Dr. Ooka reported that this man was suffering from hereditary hemochromatosis, a genetic malady that is characterized by a higher than normal iron absorption in the body.
Usually, people suffering from this hereditary malady present the first symptoms around the age of 45, but since this particular man was a regular blood donor for more than 20 years, the iron levels in his body were regulated by the noble gesture of blood donation, therefore the malady’s symptoms haven’t occurred in time. He only found out he is suffering from hereditary hemochromatosis when he was 83-years-old.
Besides all the negative effects of the iron overload presented above, the iron overload affects the liver, damaging its structure. When the structure is very damaged, cirrhosis occurs.
An iron overload can also cause joints pain and pancreatic disorders, such as diabetes.
The treatment for hereditary hemochromatosis is done by removing the excess iron, and to do so, doctors are drawing a quantity of blood out of the patient, thus explaining why donating blood for more than 20 years was a protection against this malady.
Unfortunately, the 83-years-old man stopped donating blood in his 40s, so he has given to its hereditary malady the necessary time to develop and to cause traumas to the liver surface and even a cancerous mass on the liver.
The doctors concluded that if he would have continued to donate blood, the malady wouldn’t have had enough time to develop.
Donating blood is not only a noble gesture that could save others’ lives, but it is also beneficial for us, and as in the case in which donating blood kept a man’s disease at bay, some of us may need a refreshment in terms of blood, to avoid iron overload, cholesterol depositing, cardiovascular diseases, or heart attack.