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The American Red Cross recently made news when it announced a national blood shortage. The organization, which distributes about 40% of blood donations in the U.S., said it has a shortfall of about 30,000 blood and platelet donations due to a busy travel season and back-to-back months of climate disasters in certain parts of the country.
Although it’s well known that donating blood benefits the recipient, you may not know that it also benefits the donor.
Why is blood donation important?
Blood is vital for life — you can’t live without it. Blood circulates throughout your body to deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to your cells. When someone goes through surgery or has traumatic injuries, such as from a car accident, blood transfusions help replace any blood they have lost. Likewise, patients undergoing cancer treatment may not be able to produce enough platelets to form clots and stop bleeding, and transfusions help reverse that loss.
In the U.S., someone needs blood every two seconds. However, only 3% of age-eligible people donate blood yearly. Because blood and platelets can’t be manufactured, there’s no other source if the supply runs out. So, it’s imperative that people who meet the requirements donate as often as possible.
What are the benefits of donating blood?
Everyone has their own reasons for donating blood. Some people do it because they want to help those in need — one donation can save up to three lives. Others do it because they know someone who might need blood one day. Some might even do it for the snacks and juice! No matter the reason, donating blood is a safe, simple process that takes less than an hour but can have a lifelong impact on the recipient.
Donating blood regularly can also benefit you in a few ways:
Reduces your risk of heart attack
Donating blood at least once a year can help improve your blood flow and reduce arterial blockages. Studies dating back to the late 1990s have found that people who donated blood reduced their risk of experiencing a heart attack by 88%.
Balances your iron levels
Too much iron in the blood can cause your arteries to harden (atherosclerosis). This can restrict blood flow to the rest of the body. Donating blood helps reduce the amount of iron in your blood, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis.
Reveals potential health issues
Although you won’t get a full physical examination like you would at the doctor’s office, you’ll get a mini exam before your blood draw. The wellness checkup includes:
- Blood pressure reading
- Body temperature check
- Cholesterol screening
- Hemoglobin review
- Iron count
- Pulse count
This checkup can help reveal health issues you may not have been aware of. It’s not uncommon for donors to receive diagnoses of arrhythmia or high blood pressure from the checkup.
Lowers your risk of cancer
As noted, too much iron in the blood can be bad for your body. One of the benefits of donating blood and reducing iron stores is that it can reduce your risk of cancer. Iron is associated with cancer-causing free radicals, unstable atoms that can damage cells and cause illness.
One study even found that, compared to a control group, patients who donated blood multiple times a year lowered their iron levels and their risk of getting cancer.
Donate blood to give the gift of life
Donating blood is one of the most generous things you can do, and it doesn’t take much time at all. If you can donate more than once a year, you’ll play a critical role in keeping the nation’s blood supply stable. If you’re interested in donating blood, check the requirements and learn more about the process so you know what to expect.