Is Giving Blood Good For Your Body?

Giving blood helps others. More than four and a half million patients a year need blood transfusions in the U.S. and Canada. But is giving blood good for your body? The answer is: Yes, especially if you're a man. Why?

1. Giving blood helps prevent heart disease. I'll explain more about this in a minute. Men who donate blood are four times less likely to have a heart attack than men who do not donate blood.

2. Donating blood gives you a "helper's high," and that's good for your health. Studies show when a person helps another, the helper not only feels good, it is physically good for the helper's body.

3. It lowers the iron buildup in your blood. Men and postmenopausal women tend to accumulate iron in their blood, and several studies have shown this buildup may increase the risk of heart disease. Giving blood removes iron from your body.

4. You instantly lose one pound. When you donate blood, you give one pint (16 ounces). Liquid measurements aren't the same as weight measurements, but in this case, it's close enough. I'm sure it takes more than a pound of your body's resources to make a pint of blood.

5. You get a free blood test, worth about $300. Before giving your blood to someone, blood banks obviously must test the blood for infectious diseases. If something is found, they will let you know (and the blood will not be used).

6. Your body makes newer, more flexible blood cells to replace the ones you donated. More flexible blood cells fit through your small capillaries better, improving blood flow through your body.

The procedure is very safe. Everything they use on your body is opened new, used once, and thrown away. And it doesn't take much time. Actually filling the bag with a pint of blood only takes about eleven minutes. From arriving to leaving, it will take less than an hour. Usually far less than an hour.

Now let me explain in a little more detail the first and most important reason giving blood is good for your body, especially if you're a man. The main reason is: Giving blood makes your blood thinner. To explain why that's good for your health, here is a short lesson on heart disease:

Calluses and plaque build up in certain arteries over time — the arteries that must withstand the strongest force of blood flow. The process is known as "hardening of the arteries." Arteries are living tissue, and they are responding to the rise in blood pressure by building calluses and plaque on the inside of the artery walls.

One of the things that raises blood pressure is thick or sticky blood because it is harder for the heart to pump, so the heart has to squeeze harder, which pushes the blood into the arteries with a lot of force, damaging the lining. Arteries respond to the damage by building calluses, which then accumulates plaque. The arteries try to get tougher so they can withstand the force of the increased blood pressure. Bursting is not an option as far as they arteries are concerned. But the tough callus and plaque take up room inside the artery, which narrows the passage. This may be bad in the long run, but the alternative (bursting artery walls) is unacceptable, so the body does what it has to do.

If you could find a way to make your blood less thick or sticky, you would make it easier for your heart to move the blood around your body, which would keep your blood pressure lower, which would prevent the buildup of calluses and plaque, which would prevent heart disease and heart attacks.

One very good way to thin your blood, especially if you're a man, is to donate blood.

Men have a higher concentration of red blood cells than women, which makes men's blood naturally quite a bit thicker (the greater number of red blood cells increases a man's blood viscosity by a whopping 25%). Thicker blood must be pushed harder to get through the body, and the extra pressure peels off the lining of the artery walls. The body responds by building up plaque, but it also produces another effect that might even be worse — the lining (endothelium) normally secretes substances that reduce blood pressure and make blood less sticky. When the lining is damaged, it secretes less of these valuable substances, so your blood becomes even thicker and stickier. The stiff arteries can no longer expand or contract like they should, which limits your body's ability to lower its blood pressure even further.

But you can do something about it. When you give blood, within 24 hours, your body replaces the lost fluid in your blood stream with plasma, but it takes four to eight weeks to replace all the blood cells, so during that time, your blood flows easier. When your blood pressure is low, the plaque-buildup process actually reverses. The body doesn't want to keep all that artery-wall reinforcement, so as soon as it is unneeded, the body begins to break it down. Your arteries grow younger.

By the way, you can give blood every 56 days, so as soon as your body has replaced the blood cells you lost by giving blood, you can donate another pint.

So is giving blood good for your body? Yes indeed. It helps prevent heart disease, gives you a helper's high, removes excess iron, sheds a pound of body weight, gives you a free blood test, and helps your blood flow more easily through your body.

And if that isn't enough, when you're done, you get free cookies! Use the links below to find out more about donating blood.

More Information

Find out how to prepare for giving blood the day before and the day of your appointment.

Web sites: Blood Centers, Give Life

Books: The Blood Thinner Cure and What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Hypertension

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