Donating blood saves lives — including your own

Donating blood is one of the most selfless things you can do to help save lives. But as it turns out, blood donors also get some significant benefits of their own.

Twenty years ago, in a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers followed nearly 3,000 middle-aged men for nine years. During the course of two years after donating blood, less than 1 percent experienced a heart attack. But in the group of men who were not blood donors, more than 12 percent had heart attacks.

That works out to an 88 percent reduced risk of heart attack!

So what kind of magic makes this happen?

Reduced blood viscosity. Or in simpler terms, thinner blood.

Blood donation reduces your blood’s thickness and stickiness. That means your heart gets a break because it doesn’t have to pump as hard. And your arteries benefit too. Less viscosity means less strain and injury to the cells that line the inside of your arteries.

Another study in Clinical Hemorheology and Microcirculation gives us a better idea of how this happens.

Researchers took one unit of blood from 30 volunteers (18 women and 12 men) every four days. Each participant gave blood four times. Compared to measurements taken at the beginning of the study, on average, systolic blood viscosity was reduced by 21 percent, and diastolic viscosity dropped 32 percent.

Blood donation prompts formation of new red blood cells whose membranes are more flexible than older cells. This makes them much less likely to aggregate. It also makes your blood more efficient at delivering oxygen and other essential nutrients throughout your body.

This is a perfect time to consider giving, since blood bank supplies tend to run low in the early months of the year.

Most healthy adults can give blood, with some exceptions that include certain heart conditions, cancer status, and other factors. And donors can safely give blood up to six times per year. For more about eligibility requirements to donate and how to locate a blood bank near you, visit the Red Cross donor page.

So roll up your sleeve and be a life-saving superhero. And when you walk out of your donor session, you’ll know your own cardiovascular system is better off too.

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