6 Surprising Health Benefits of Donating Blood
Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. Every day, roughly 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed in the U.S., the Red Cross reports. Simply put, that’s a lot of blood. Patients with sickle cell diseases or cancer need blood transfusions throughout their treatments, and a single car accident victim can require up to 100 pints of blood.
Since blood can’t be made or manufactured, these patients depend on blood donors for their very lives.
This might be something you already knew about. You’ve probably seen the posters and the big mobile blood banks—community blood drives are often in the public eye. We often hear about the importance of donating blood as it relates to the recipients. One blood donation could help up to three patients.
But what are the benefits of donating blood for the donor? We don’t often hear about that side of the arrangement. While the impact is a little less obvious, there are several health advantages that come as a result of giving blood. It turns out, this compassionate choice can have healthy lifestyle benefits for the donor as well.
Perhaps you are considering donating blood but are unsure of the effect it will have on your body. Or maybe you’ve done it before and are curious about how it might impact you if you donate regularly. In any case, you may be surprised at some of the advantages. We consulted with health professionals to identify some of the biggest benefits of donating blood.
The benefits of giving blood
1. Giving blood can reveal potential health problems
While it isn’t the same thing as a trip to the doctor, donating blood can be another way to keep an eye on your cardiovascular health. You’ll receive a mini-physical prior to the blood draw, in which someone will check your pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, hemoglobin and more. This can sometimes shed light on issues you didn’t even know about.
“If your blood is too low in iron, the clinic will tell you and won’t draw your blood”, says Jan Patenaude, dietician and certified LEAP therapist. They will also inform you of any other blood issues they notice or if anything seems unusual. An occasional check up on your blood quality could be the key to spotting a health issue before it becomes life-threatening.
2. Giving blood can reduce harmful iron stores
One in every two hundred people in the U.S. is affected by a condition called hemochromatosis and most don’t even know it, according to Patenaude. Hemochromatosis is a disease that causes an iron overload and is labeled as the most common genetic disease among Caucasians by the Mayo Clinic.
A committed blood donor herself, Patenaude recommends donation as a way to reduce the body’s extra iron stores. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the removal of red blood cells by phlebotomy (or donating blood) is the preferred treatment for patients with excess iron in their blood.
3. Giving blood may lower your risk of suffering a heart attack
You mightbe surprised to discover that there may be heart health benefits to giving blood. Donating blood at least once a year could reduce your risk of a heart attack by 88 percent, according to a study conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology.* This relates to the iron issue again, says Dr. David Dragoo, healthcare expert at Money Crashers.
Dr. Dragoo explains that high levels of iron in the blood constrict your blood vessels and create more risk of a heart attack. Depleting those extra iron deposits by donating blood gives your vessels more room to operate.
4. Giving blood may reduce your risk of developing cancer
In an average, completely healthy person, the link between giving blood and decreased cancer risk is slim. But research does support a reduced risk of cancer for blood donors with different maladies, one of which is hemochromatosis.
Phlebotomy (the process of drawing blood) was found to be an iron-reduction method that is associated with lower cancer risk and mortality, according to a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study focused on patients affected by peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which the Mayo Clinic describes as a common circulatory problem. PAD patients who regularly donated blood had a lower risk of developing cancer than those who did not.
5. Giving blood can help your liver stay healthy
Another danger of iron overload is the health of your liver. “In recent years, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the hepatic expression of metabolic syndrome, has reached epidemic proportions,” reports the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Research has linked too much iron with NAFLD, Hepatitis C and other liver diseases and infections. Though there are many other factors involved in these problems, donating blood can help relieve some of those iron stores and avoid extra issues in your liver.
6. Giving blood can help your mental state
While there are several physical benefits to donating blood, the most powerful health benefit is arguably in the psychological realm. Donating blood means that someone (or multiple people) somewhere will be getting the help they desperately need.
Donating blood, especially on a regular basis, can be similar to volunteer work. You give of your time (and your literal blood) to help strangers in need. If you go to specific blood donation location each time, you’ll get to know some of the staff who are also dedicating themselves to the cause of saving lives.
This kind of regular, altruistic interaction has major psychological benefits. Getting out of your usual environment to do something good for someone else is stimulating in the best kind of way. Volunteering has been shown to have positive effects on happiness. In people over 65-years-old, volunteering also reduces the risk of depression and loneliness.
Patenaude believes the psychological health benefit you receive from knowing you’re helping others is just as helpful as the physical health benefit. When you roll up your sleeve and sit down in that chair, you know you’re making a difference—and that makes you feel good!
Blood donation benefits everyone
The health benefits of donating blood are considerable—but of course, the most important part of the process is helping to save lives. Donating blood is good for you, and it’s even better for all the people who desperately need the help.
If you don’t mind blood draws or the sight of blood, you might want to consider becoming a medical assistant. These professionals save lives every day just by doing their jobs. If you’d like to learn more about medical assistants, check out our article, “Medical Assisting Skills: What You Need to Be Confident in Your Career.”
*The study referenced was conducted on nearly 3,000 middle-aged men living in Eastern Finland.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in March 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2018. Insights from Patenaude and Dragoo remain from the original article.