You may have seen the news reports. The American Red Cross is in the midst of a serious blood supply shortage. One news report said the national blood supply has reached emergency levels. But did you know donating blood doesn’t just help the patient who receives it? There are health benefits of donating blood, as it helps your heart, too.
The reason is that donating blood helps to reduce your blood volume and promotes healthy blood viscosity, or blood flow. Plus, if you’re a male or a postmenopausal woman, periodically donating blood is extremely important because it helps to reduce excess iron in your blood.
Your body stores iron in your muscles and other tissues, but unless it’s lost through menstruation or by donating blood, toxic levels can accumulate in your system. A Finnish study examined 1,900 men ages 42 to 60 for five years. What they found is that men with excessive levels of iron were more than twice as likely to have heart attacks. Plus, every 1 percent increase in iron translated into a 4 percent increase in heart attack risk, making the health benefits of donating blood even clearer.
Another related issue is that about 10 percent of American adults carry the gene for hereditary hemochromatosis—or iron overload. Their physicians are often perplexed by their symptoms of fatigue, abdominal pain, organ failure, immune dysfunction, skin bronzing, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual irregularity, hair loss and explosive diarrhea.
To find out if your iron levels are healthy, ask your doctor to perform a special iron test called serum ferritin. Ideally, you want your iron level to be less than 80 mg/L (for women) and less than 90 mg/L (for men). If your results are above 100 mg/L, to help remove the excess iron, donate blood one to three times per year. If your level is more than 400 mg/L, ask your doctor to check for hereditary hemochromatosis.
If you’re interested in helping decrease the blood bank shortage and the health benefits of donating blood, you can contact the American Red Cross to find a blood donation opportunity near you.
Now it’s your turn: Have you experienced the benefits of donating blood?
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