4 Health Benefits of Blood Donation

There are more benefits beyond the potential to save another person's life.

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Your blood does a lot for your health. For example, without it, oxygen would never reach your cells and carbon dioxide would be filling your blood vessels. That is one of the reasons why blood donation is important.

While you may never worry about having enough blood to function, plenty of others aren't as fortunate. Patients dealing with cancer, accidents, burns, heart surgery, and organ transplants all need blood or platelet donations per the American Red Cross.

Additionally, the American Red Cross noted that someone needs blood every two seconds, and one donation can help save multiple lives. However, donating blood can have personal health benefits for you as well—here are four of those benefits.

You'll Get a Mini Check-Up

Before you give blood, you'll first have to complete a quick physical that measures your temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and hemoglobin levels according to the American Red Cross. After your blood is collected, it's sent off to a lab where it will undergo 13 different tests for infectious diseases, like HIV and West Nile virus. If anything comes back positive, you'll be notified immediately.

"If year after year your tests come back negative, then you'll know for sure there's nothing you've been exposed to," said Phillip DeChristopher, MD, director of the Loyola University Health System blood bank. The physical and blood tests are no reason to skip your annual doctor visit, but they're good for peace of mind. But you should never donate blood if you suspect you might actually be sick or have been exposed to HIV or another virus.

You Can Burn Some Calories

Giving blood can burn a significant amount of calories. During blood donation of just one pint, you could leave having burned up to 650 calories as noted in a 2020 EC Emergency Medicine and Critical Care article. However, if you're looking to lose weight, burning calories during a blood donation is not a substitute for burning calories from physical activity. If you're looking to lose pounds more effectively, you'll want to start with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s recommended moderate exercise time of 150 minutes per week. Of note, the number of calories you burn will depend on a few factors such as your weight and the intensity of the exercise you are doing.

Your Cardiovascular Health May Be Better

"If blood has a high viscosity, or resistance to flow, it will flow like molasses," Dr. DeChristopher explained. However, if you donate blood, it becomes less viscous, according to a July 2022 article published in the Journal of Blood Medicine.

Additionally, a person who donates blood may have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease due to a lipid profile (known as a coronary risk panel, which contains coronary artery risk tests) reduction and the easier blood flow per researchers from a Global Journal of Transfusion Medicine article published in January 2020.

Over time, repeated blood donations may help the blood flow in a way that's less damaging to the lining of the blood vessels and could result in fewer arterial blockages. "What is clear is that blood donors seem to not be hospitalized so often and if they are, they have shorter lengths of stay," Dr. DeChristopher said. "And they're less likely to get heart attacks, strokes, and cancers."

Your Iron Levels Can Even Out

Healthy adults usually have about 5 grams of iron in their bodies, mostly in red blood cells but also in bone marrow. When you donate a unit of blood, you lose about a quarter of a gram of iron, which gets replenished from the food you eat in the weeks after donation, Dr. DeChristopher said. This regulation of iron levels is a good thing because having too much iron could be bad news for your blood vessels.

"The statistics appear to show that decreasing the amount of iron in otherwise healthy people over the long run is beneficial to their blood vessels, and diseases related to abnormalities in blood vessels, such as heart attack and stroke," Dr. DeChristopher explained.

Other Concerns About Blood Donations

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) noted that anemia, a condition where your body lacks red blood cells or hemoglobin, affects up to one-third of the world's population. Anemia is most commonly due to an iron deficiency; in that case, it's best not to give blood until the anemia is resolved, Dr. DeChristopher said.

People who haven't hit menopause yet may also find it hard to donate blood. "Pre-menopausal females can be somewhat iron depleted with blood counts just under the lower limit," Dr. DeChristopher explained. If you have low iron and you still want to be a donor, taking an oral iron supplement may help you re-qualify, Dr. DeChristopher added.

One other thing to note is how often you donate blood. Per the American Red Cross, giving blood can occur as often as every seven days (up to 24 times per year) if you are donating platelets or every 112 days (up to three times per year) if you making a Power Red donation (when a machine is used so that you can donate two units of red blood cells safely). Giving blood too regularly, according to a 2020 Transfusion Medicine and Hemotherapy study can actually lead to iron deficiency as well.

There are other circumstances where you may not be able to give blood. Other than being sick or having low iron, the American Red Cross mentioned that having traveled to or lived outside of the United States in a malaria-risk country within three years can deter you from being able to give blood. Additionally, there may be waiting periods after taking medications (e.g., antibiotics or blood thinners) or getting vaccinations (e.g., for chicken pox or measles, mumps, and rubella) before you can give blood per the American Red Cross.

Ultimately, while the health benefits of donating blood are nice, don't forget who you're really helping. "The need for blood is always there," Dr. DeChristopher said. "It's important to recognize how important willing donors are."

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