For each blood donation, up to three lives can be saved, according to data from the Red Cross. The benefits of donating blood for those who need it are endless and, at least in Spain, depend on the altruism of those who volunteer to donate their blood. Data from 2018 indicated that in Spain there were 36.07 donations per 1,000 inhabitants. However, this number dropped during the Covid pandemic, and although they are recovering, the need for donors remains. Cancer treatment and surgery are the two main uses of this donated blood.
The zombie cells that make us age and how to eliminate them
But donating blood doesn’t just help the recipients. In addition to the satisfaction of helping others, donating blood provides well-studied benefits to your health. For starters, donating blood is very safe. The average donation is about 450 ml, and a healthy person will replenish the volume of blood (plasma) in as little as 48 hours. On the other hand, it will take between four and eight weeks for your body to fully replenish the red blood cells you have donated, but even this can have very positive effects.
Before the donation, there is a prior selection process that rules out people with diseases for whom the donation could pose a risk. Although some people may experience mild side effects, such as dizziness, these are transient and usually not significant. In addition, experiments have shown that blood donation does not affect psychological or physical performance. In a controlled trial involving soldiers, a group of blood donors was compared with another group who had a needle inserted but no blood drawn. All were then subjected to tests measuring their aim and stamina for several days, and no differences were found between the two groups.
Mental benefits of donating blood
The visit to donate blood itself can also be intimidating for some people. After all, it occurs in a medicalized environment, which is associated with disease, and involves a prick with a hypodermic needle. However, in experiments measuring stress levels in donors, it was found that although the stress hormone cortisol rose during donation, it fell immediately afterwards. In addition, regular donors felt much less stress than the rookies.
Not only this, but levels of psychological well-being are also increased. In a controlled trial, donors showed improved mood, felt more alert and more relaxed. Relaxation increased even after donation, reaching maximum values at 15 and 30 minutes.
Prevention of chronic diseases
One of the possible positive effects is protection against cardiovascular diseases. However, here the results of the studies are not so clear. On the one hand, blood donation could help control blood pressure to people with hypertension.
There are also beneficial effects on blood cholesterol: increase levels of “good” HDL cholesterol particles and decreases the risk of peroxidation of LDL particles, the process that makes them dangerous for the arteries. A recent review of these studies found that most pointed to positive effects, while others found no effect.
One possible explanation lies in the antioxidant effects of donating blood. It has been proven that blood donation eliminates oxidant molecules and decreases oxidative stress because raise levels of an antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase.
Many chronic diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases are caused by oxidative stress leading to a state of chronic inflammation. It seems that donating blood can be a source of eustress, or positive stress, since to replenish blood the body activates its defense mechanisms.
Less oxidation also means less aging, and the skin often provides a measure of how much we are aging. In a recent experiment with mice, analyzing gene expression after blood was drawn, it was found that increased skin thickness and collagen content and decreases the number of senescent cells, the “zombie” cells that make us age. This was because genes associated with inflammation were “turned off” while genes related to collagen production were “turned on.”
Donating blood is not only a service to others that saves lives and makes us feel better about ourselves, but it can also improve our health in many ways. Cheer up.
What is all this based on?