When you give blood, you give a priceless and precious gift. According to the American Red Cross, someone needs blood in the United States every two seconds, and a single car accident victim can require up to 100 pints. Each donation can help save the lives of up to three people in need of transfusions.
Beyond the obvious life-saving benefits for others, did you know that giving blood could also benefit your health? Here are five surprising advantages of donating.
#1. Regulation of Iron Levels
Every time you give blood, you lose approximately a quarter of a gram of iron, which is then replenished in the following days and weeks. This helps keep iron at a manageable level and prevents blood vessels from getting overtaxed, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, the American Journal of Epidemiology reports that blood donors have an 88 percent reduced risk of heart disease.
However, you must have a certain level of iron in your blood to qualify as a donor. Pre-menopausal women and those suffering from anemia may need to take an iron supplement or eat an iron-rich diet before they can donate.
#2. Improved Circulation
If you have slow blood flow, you have a higher risk of developing many health conditions. These can range from milder maladies—like high blood pressure, cramping, dizziness and numbness—to more serious issues like blood clots, strokes, heart disease and organ damage. And because your blood can't deliver as much oxygen to your muscles, your ability to run and exercise will be diminished.
Regular donations could help boost your circulation, which will put less strain on the blood vessels and help prevent blockages. Healthy blood flow also has some ancillary benefits, such as more efficient distribution of nutrients throughout the body, the ability to exercise for periods of time before muscle fatigue and a more stable body temperature.
#3. Reduced Cancer Risk
According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, excess iron levels have been shown to increase the risk of developing certain types of cancers. When you give blood, iron levels are depleted, which theoretically lowers this risk. Over a period of 4 1/2 years, a group of 600 people who had bi-annual blood draws were shown to have lower iron levels, and therefore less cancer risk, than another group of 600 who did not give blood.
#4. Extra Health Check
Before donating blood, you're required to get a mini-physical. The medical staff will check your pulse, temperature and blood pressure, and will take a small blood sample to test your iron levels. You'll also disclose your medical history and any recent travel destinations.
After you've made your donation, your blood will be tested for multiple infectious diseases, including Hepatitis B and C, HIV and West Nile virus. The Red Cross also analyzes your blood for any atypical or unusual red cell antibodies. If anything abnormal is found, you'll be notified immediately.
Of course, these screenings shouldn't be used as a substitute for regular visits with your primary doctor, but they still provide a little extra reassurance that all is well on the health front.
#5. Weight Loss
While you shouldn't give blood as part of a weight loss plan, it does have the side benefit of burning extra calories. The University of California in San Diego approximates that every pint of donated blood expends about 650 calories.
In less than an hour, you can save lives while giving yourself a health boost. For more information on giving blood, visit the American Red Cross.
Have you registered as a blood donor? What inspired you to give blood, and have you noticed any health benefits?
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