If you’re a blood donor, you’re doing someone an incredible favor and potentially bringing them back from death’s door. The need for blood is severe: every two seconds, someone in the U.S. alone needs a life-saving blood transfusion. According to the American Red Cross, a single blood donation can save up to three lives. You know you’re helping others when you give, but are there health benefits to donating blood? Let’s take a closer look.
Health Benefits of Blood Donation
When you become a blood or platelet donor, you’re doing yourself a favor while helping others. It’s a win-win! Here are the main health benefits of blood donation.
You Get a Basic Health Checkup Every Time
One of the least-discussed benefits of donating blood has nothing to do with the actual act of enduring that needle stick and letting the good stuff flow into the collection bag. Every time you visit a donation center, you’re treated to a quick physical. At minimum, you’ll have your temperature and pulse taken, along with your blood pressure. Your hemoglobin level is tested on the spot as well. Once your donation is complete, your blood is sent to a laboratory, where it is subjected to 13 tests that look for infectious diseases. If any of these are positive, you’re informed immediately. While this isn’t a reason to donate blood and while you should never donate if you know that you’ve been exposed to HIV or another serious illness, the mini-physical can give you some peace of mind between regularly scheduled doctor’s visits.
You Might Lower Your Risk of Heart Attack
While there are many dietary and lifestyle factors to consider when assessing your risk of heart attack, frequent blood donation answers the question “Is donating blood healthy?” in a whole new way. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, people who make a habit of donating blood are a stunning 88% less likely to suffer heart attacks than the average non-donating individual.
Your Blood Flows Better
The same study reveals that one of the biggest health benefits of giving blood is attributed to better blood flow. According to Dr. Phillip De Christopher, M.D., Ph.D, who is director at the Loyola University Health System Blood Bank, “If blood has a high viscosity (resistance to flow) it will flow like molasses.” He notes that blood donors are less likely to suffer from damage to blood vessel linings, and this has a direct correlation to a lowered risk of arterial blockage.
Better Health Overall
Dr. DeChristopher also notes that frequent blood donors seem to be hospitalized less often than others. He also states that they’re less likely to suffer from strokes and cancer than others. While these benefits of blood donation haven’t been extensively studied, they are certainly impressive and worth considering. When looking at studies that do look into donate blood benefits, it’s important to note that researchers haven’t been able to conclusively prove correlation between cause and effect. Some experts believe that these benefits of blood donation might actually be signs that frequent blood donors may simply choose healthier lifestyles than those who don’t donate blood often.
Iron Levels are Better Balanced
Donating blood benefits your iron levels, ensuring that you stay balanced. Just as too little iron is a problem for the body, so is too much iron. Most healthy adults have about 5 grams of iron in their system, mostly housed in blood cells, as well as in bone marrow. Donating a unit of blood causes the release of approximately ¼ gram of iron. Your body replenishes this over time.
You Might Enjoy a Longer Life Span
While there’s no exact correlation with this benefit of blood donation, helping others is a very good way to increase the odds that you’ll live longer than your peers. According to results from a study published in Health Psychology, people who volunteer simply out of concern for their fellow human beings have a significantly lower risk of death four years later than those who volunteer simply to reap the benefits for themselves. Your kindness and generosity will be appreciated by the people who receive your blood, and you may very well benefit from it as well!
Who Shouldn’t Donate Blood?
Even if you want to help, there are some times when donating blood simply isn’t appropriate. If you’re among the ten percent of women who tend to suffer from anemia, then you’ll need to resolve the issue before you donate. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure about this – the pre-donation blood test will clue you in to anemia and you’ll be given some tips on ways to improve your iron levels.
If you are a premenopausal woman, you might be turned away at the donation center as well. This happens because slightly low iron is a common issue in women who are not quite into menopause. An oral iron supplement can help you get your iron back up to an acceptable level for donation.
People who have been exposed to HIV should not donate blood, nor should those who have recently been exposed to a virus. If you’ve had a cold or the flu recently, it’s a good idea to wait until you’re completely healthy before you consider donating.
There are a few other reasons blood donation centers turn potential donors away. If you’ve recently had a piercing, it’s not the time to donate blood. The same wisdom holds true if you’ve recently gotten a new tattoo or had color added to an older one. If you have travelled out of the country recently, you might be asked to return at a later date. Some medications rule out blood donation, too.
If you’ve been suffering from a recurring illness, you’ll be asked to come back when you have recovered completely. In the event that your body weight is lower than it should be, you’ll be asked to wait to donate as well. Your good intentions will certainly be recognized, however blood donation centers don’t want to cause potential harm to anyone who gives blood.
Since blood donation eligibility standards can change and there are different requirements for various donation types, it’s a good idea to check the Red Cross eligibility requirements before you donate. Don’t worry if you can’t check now; you’ll be asked to fill out a questionnaire and provide a tiny blood sample before the actual donation process begins.
Now that you know all about the benefits of blood donation, consider giving! Not only is blood donation good for your health, it’s also a wonderful way to help your community.