I was talking with a patient a few weeks ago, just chatting about various health matters, when we somehow stumbled onto the topic of gout. I’ve known about natural remedies for gout for some time, but I was curious to learn how he had personally cured his gout flare-ups and been free from them for ten years.
When I asked how he had resolved his gout problem, I was expecting to hear some of the dietary and lifestyle changes that I know to be helpful, but he also explained that giving blood was one important element in solving the issue. He went on to tell me that donating blood has various other health benefits, as well.
At that point, I was intrigued enough to do my own investigation into the matter to find out whether there are any scientific studies suggesting that blood donation can improve one’s health, and to my amazement, some research does exist.
Surprising Health Benefits of Donating Blood
More than 41,000 blood donations are needed each day, and since scientists can’t make blood in a lab or petri dish, it has to be collected from people like you and me.
As if helping save someone’s life isn’t reason enough, giving blood has a few extra health benefits for those generous enough to donate.
Donating Blood Can Reduce the Risks of Heart Disease
With the prevalence of anemia these days, you might be surprised to learn that excessive iron in the blood is more common than iron deficiency.
Excess iron has been linked to liver cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, type 1 diabetes, cirrhosis, heart problems, and an increased risk of infection.
In this case, donating blood helps rid the body of excess iron.
♦ Donating blood at least once a year could reduce your risk of a heart attack by 88 percent (1), and this effect is thought to be directly related to lowering iron levels.
♦ Donating blood also protects against cardiovascular disease because of lower cholesterol and lower LDL levels (2).
Phillip DeChristopher, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Loyola University Health System blood bank, says that “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.”
Other potential causes of excess iron include the regular consumption of alcohol, cooking with iron pots or pans, eating processed food products that are “fortified’ with iron, drinking well water that is high in iron, and taking multiple vitamins and mineral supplements that contain iron.
If your iron levels are elevated, donating blood is the safest, most effective, and most inexpensive approach to remedy this problem.
Donating Blood Can Reduce the Risks of Cancer
The body isn’t very efficient with excreting iron, so it can easily build up in organs like the liver, heart, and pancreas. This can damage body tissues and contribute to some very serious health issues.
Cancer researchers have also found evidence that bowel cancers are two to three times more likely to develop when dietary iron is too high. Giving blood, and thereby reducing iron levels, is associated with lower cancer risk and mortality (3). Patients who regularly donate blood have a lower risk of developing cancer than those who do not (4).
Donating Blood Can Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Sugar Levels
Blood donation reduces your total number of red blood cells. The bone marrow, in response, immediately goes to work to replenish those cells. As a result, the blood of a donor is refreshed every time they donate because of the increased production of new blood cells.
This can have a number of health benefits.
♦ A trial in patients with metabolic syndrome found that donating blood resulted in greater insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, and better glycemic control (5).
As a result of this research, I’ve been speaking more to my patients about the health benefits of giving blood, and am making more of an effort to donate myself.
The Red Cross website has a constantly updating list of centers and blood drives where you can donate blood, and there is also a blood donor app that will alert you when a blood drive is near you.