January is National Blood Donor Month, which has been observed since 1970 with the goal of increasing blood donations in the winter—a time of year when blood supply dwindles significantly due to holiday travel, seasonal illness, and inclement weather.
Unfortunately, this poses quite a challenge for the Red Cross and other blood collection agencies since the need for blood never diminishes. So this month, consider giving the gift of life…and health…by donating blood. Not only could you save the lives of up to three people with each pint you give—you’re doing your own body a huge favor.
Blood Donation Benefits Everyone
That’s right—giving blood helps not only the recipient, but also the donor. Many of the benefits of blood donation stem from its ability to eliminate excess iron in the blood.
Iron is an important component of hemoglobin—the protein in your red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. If you don’t have adequate iron, your body can’t make enough of these oxygen-carrying cells. This can cause fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, paleness, and other unpleasant symptoms.
On the flip side, too much iron in the blood can be dangerous too…and that’s where blood donation can really help. It can:
- Reduce iron overload. Roughly one in 200 people have too much iron in their blood—a condition called hemochromatosis. The removal of red blood cells via phlebotomy is considered the best way to keep this problem under control.
- Lower risk of heart disease and heart attack. Excess iron can constrict your blood vessels and increase risk of heart attack. High blood iron levels also can accelerate the oxidation of cholesterol, which can damage and harden arteries. Giving blood also reduces the viscosity (thickness) of the blood, so it can flow more freely through the arteries.
- Keep your liver healthy. Excess iron can enlarge the liver and contribute to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Blood donation lessens risk of both.
- Decrease cancer risk. Regular blood donation cuts the risk of certain cancers that are linked to high iron, including liver, colon, lung, esophagus, and throat. The release of excess iron through phlebotomy eases oxidative stress that often precedes the development of cancer.
It’s Also a Free Checkup
If all that doesn’t convince you that giving blood is good for you, consider this. Blood donation is basically a free health screening. First, the nurse takes your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. After your blood is drawn, it is then put through a rigorous screening process to check for a variety of diseases, including hepatitis B and C, West Nile virus, HIV, cytomegalovirus, syphilis, and infectious parasites like Trypansosoma cruzi.
While all this is certainly important, probably the most powerful benefit of blood donation is psychological in nature. There are simply no words to describe the satisfaction and pride regular blood donors feel knowing they’re helping—even saving—the lives of others in need.
To find a blood drive or donation center near you, visit the American Red Cross or conduct an online search for locally run hospitals and facilities in your area. Even better, consider organizing a blood drive through your church, temple, or mosque, or through your social group like Elks or Toastmasters.