Aging Options

Donating blood is good for others, good for you

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Summer is coming and you know what that means.  It means that the hospitals will need more blood. 

Wasn’t that what you were thinking?  It’s true though.  Summer time and holidays increases the likelihood of trauma which in turn increases the demand for a supply item that can only be manufactured in the human body.  There is no available substitute for human blood, therefore if someone needs blood, that someone needs someone else to generously donate that blood.  In the western world, that means an altruistic individual like you.  But if you aren’t feeling altruistic, how about doing it because it’s healthy for you?

The results are somewhat mixed but some research studies out there seem to point to the health benefits of donating blood especially if you are a man.  Here’s why.  Americans generally don’t have low levels of iron.  It’s in our breakfast cereal; in the large quantity of meats we eat; in egg yolks; dark, leafy greens such as spinach and collards; dried fruit; and turkey or chicken giblets.  Even foods it wouldn’t normally be in are enriched with iron.  That doesn’t mean that no one in America is anemic, it just means that there are a lot less people in need of an extra dose of iron than most Americans believe.  The problem with iron is that it speeds the oxidation of cholesterol and that process is thought to increase the damage to arteries that ultimately leads to cardiovascular disease.

Women lose blood and therefore iron every month each time they menstruate.  In contrast, men begin to build up iron levels in their body tissue starting in their twenties.  Once women go through menopause they begin to catch up with the men.  So studies have been done that have looked at the link between donating blood and heart attacks and found that men who donate blood are less likely to have a heart attack than men who do not donate blood.

Now, there are some naysayers out there.  Studies have also indicated that men who donate blood appear to be in better health than men who don’t.   There might be good reason for that as well.  Donating blood every two months or so means that you are weighed, asked questions about your health, given a blood test, have your blood pressure taken etc.  In other words, every two months you have a mini-exam.  Men, especially, aren’t known for going to the doctor on a regular basis but here’s a way to have that feeling of having done something for someone else while managing also to do something for you.

Other people who might benefit from giving blood other than men, and postmenopausal women are individuals with hemochromatosis or those who are obese.  Hemochromatosis is a disorder in which iron accumulates in organs and body tissue.  Those individuals often have bloodletting as part of their treatment options but donating blood can accomplish the same goal.  In the past, blood from these patients was often not accepted but new studies indicate blood from these patients is as safe as other donated blood.

Obese individuals may benefit in that blood donations may temporarily reduce their blood pressure.  The jury is still out (i.e. not enough studies have been done) and some researchers believe that the temporary relief of symptoms such as lower blood sugar and heart rate isn’t enough reason to suggest blood donation since there isn’t any evidence that the temporary fix allows those individuals to live longer.

Still, probably more importantly than any other reason, people most often give blood because it makes them feel good, not physically but mentally.  One pint of blood can help up to three people.  According to the Mayo Clinic, on average, a hip replacement typically uses one unit of blood, a cardiac bypass uses two units, a heart transplant uses two units and a liver transplant uses six units.  Only about 5 percent to 10 percent of Americans donate blood.  As a result, we experience blood supply shortage (fewer than three days of blood available) as the norm rather than the exception.  The need for blood has increased in America because we are all getting older and older people are more likely to have those things on the Mayo Clinic’s list done to them than younger people.

Who can donate blood?

To be eligible to donate you must:

  • Be at least 17 years old
  • Weigh at least 110 pounds
  • Be in good health

Health or other issues that would disqualify you include:

  • Having donated in the past 56 days
  • Low iron levels
  • Pregnancy
  • Travel to certain countries
  • Blood pressure too high
  • Certain medications
  • Certain health problems (some like diabetes must be under control)
  • Being ill

Before you donate:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a good breakfast or lunch but avoid fatty foods
  • Drink plenty of fluids

To find a local blood center, go to:




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