The Surprising Health Benefits of Donating Blood

The Surprising Health Benefits of Donating Blood

Every January, the American Red Cross has a shortage of blood because donations decrease during holidays and flu season. That’s why January became National Blood Donor Month (NBDM) over 50 years ago.

The organization is experiencing the worst shortage of blood products – blood, plasma, and platelets –  in over a decade because of those reasons and another Covid-19 surge.

If you’re considering donating blood, but undecided, know that one donation is estimated to save three lives. As a healthy bonus, it can also lower your blood pressure and your risk of a heart attack or stroke!

Learn more in this article.

Donate Blood, Save Lives in Your Community

Every two seconds, someone in the US needs blood. The American Red Cross provides 40% of the nation’s blood supply. Daily, we need about 29,000 units of red blood cells, 5,000 platelet units, and 6,500 plasma units for people who’ve been in accidents, need organ transplants, or have diseases that require transfusions. Because of the shortage, people are being denied transfusions.

The average blood transfusion requires three units of blood. A car wreck victim may need as many as 100 units of blood! It can take 1,200 plasma donations a year to help someone with hemophilia.

Each time you donate, it provides about a pint of blood, one to three units of platelets, or 660-880 milliliters of plasma. You see why it takes many donors to meet the country’s needs!

Lower Your Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke

The great news is that in addition to saving lives, giving blood regularly benefits your health too! Studies show that people who donate even once or twice a year have an 88% lower risk of heart attack or stroke and a 33% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

“If your hemoglobin is too high, blood donation helps to lower the viscosity of the blood, which has been associated with the formation of blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke,” explains Dr. Robert DeSimone, director of transfusion medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. He says the benefits are more profound for men, possibly because women shed blood during menstruation.

Giving blood can also reveal unknown health issues. At your visit, someone will check your pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, iron levels, and hemoglobin (a protein in your blood that carries oxygen). If your iron is too low, you cannot donate that day. If it’s high, it may indicate hemochromatosis, a hereditary condition that causes your body to absorb too much iron.

About one in every 200 people have hemochromatosis, but most don’t realize it. Too much iron can lead to life-threatening conditions like liver disease, heart disease, and diabetes. However, giving blood (phlebotomy) is the best treatment for iron overload. So, instead of having blood removed and discarded, you can give it to people in need!

Additionally, having too much iron in the blood increases your risk of some types of cancer. Research shows iron reduction may lower the risk of lung, colorectal, prostate, and other cancers.

Fear Needles? Tips to Squash Your Fears

What’s keeping us from donating? Covid-19 is the major reason. Donations have been low throughout the pandemic. A lack of college and high school blood drives has caused the biggest drop, 62%. Student donors gave a fourth of the blood collected by the Red Cross in 2019.

Historically, a fear of needles has been the main reason people don’t donate. It’s estimated that 25% of adults have trypanophobia, a fear of needles, or aichmophobia, a fear of sharp objects. If this hits home, but you’d like to give blood, try one of these 12 ways to reduce your fear of needles.

Ready to donate? Healthy adults with no sickness symptoms may donate. Teens age 16 and 17 who weigh at least 110 pounds may donate with parental permission. Even if you’ve recently been vaccinated or boosted, you may donate if you are symptom-free and feel well. All blood types are needed!

Find a blood donation site nearest you here.