How often do you give blood? Probably not often enough. You can donate whole blood about every two months, and platelets every seven days (for a maximum of 24 platelet donations a year). If you’re not giving blood as often as you can, you’re not just depriving your fellow man of potentially lifesaving medical treatment. You could be putting your own health at risk.
That’s because having some blood removed once in a while can actually do a lot to protect and improve your health. Giving blood can prevent diseases like cancer and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The checkup you receive prior to donating and the disease screening your blood receives could alert you to health problems you’re not aware of. And, because it’s an altruistic gesture, giving blood regularly could actually make you happier.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you should be giving more blood.
Prevent Heart and Liver Disease
You’re probably aware that your blood contains high levels of iron. What you might not know, however, is that if there’s too much iron in your blood, you could get really sick.
Now, most people aren’t going to develop hemochromatosis, also known as iron overload, unless they’re born with a genetic predisposition to the condition or they develop it from secondary causes, like taking too many iron supplements, having blood transfusions, or being treated for anemia. Liver disease and dialysis treatments can also cause hemochromatosis. Most cases, however, are genetic. Hemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder among Caucasians, affecting one out of every 200 Americans.
Many people who have iron overload don’t even know they have it, so it’s not a bad idea to give blood regularly just in case. Excess levels of iron in your blood can cause arterial damage and raise your risk of a heart attack. Researchers have found that giving blood regularly can lower your risk of a heart attack by as much as 88 percent because removing a pint of your blood treats iron deposits in your arteries and gives the remaining blood more room to operate.
Too much blood, or high levels of iron in your blood, can also damage your liver. High blood iron levels have been linked to various liver diseases, including NAFLD, hepatitis C, and alcoholic liver disease. Donating blood can relieve some of the pressure that excess blood iron puts on your liver.
Protect Yourself from Cancer
It’s thought that the excess iron levels in people with conditions like hemochromatosis can raise cancer risk, so giving blood regularly can help protect you from certain cancers, especially if you have a disorder affecting your blood iron levels.
Even if you don’t have hemochromatosis or a similar disorder, however, giving a regular blood donation could help mitigate your risk of developing cancer later on, because the iron in your blood can contribute to free radical damage to your body’s cells. Removing some of the iron in your body through a blood donation could protect you from oxidative stress, inflammation, and cancer.
Enjoy a Mini Checkup
Fewer than 38 percent of Americans are eligible to give blood, and medical professionals will want to give you a little checkup before clearing you to donate yours. This exam will include checking your vital signs, measuring your blood pressure, and screening your donated blood for bloodborne diseases. Plenty of people have been alerted to potential health problems, like high blood pressure or arrhythmia, thanks to a blood donation health screen.
If you suffer from high blood pressure, you can do different lifestyles, exercise, and diet changes to keep your blood pressure within safe limits.
Get that Warm, Fuzzy Feeling
Doing things for others makes you feel good — and what better reason is there to help out, anyway? Helping others can induce physiological brain changes linked with happiness, and can boost your own feelings of confidence and optimism. You’ll feel more connected to your community and less isolated — especially because, if you give blood regularly, you’ll get to know the blood donation staff and form the sort of casual social ties that, scientists say, safeguard against loneliness.
People who volunteer regularly report better health and more happiness, and lower rates of depression. So, if you’re looking for a way to feel more fulfilled in your life, or more connected to your community, regular blood donations could make all the difference.
If you’re eligible to give blood, you absolutely should, and as often as you can. Your single blood donation could save up to three lives — and that’s not all. Donating blood also has tangible health benefits for the donor. It’s time to roll up your sleeve and help your community — and yourself.