Donating Blood to Prevent Heart Disease?

Donating Blood to Prevent Heart Disease?
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An extraordinary thing happened when those at high risk for heart disease were randomized to give blood—and it had nothing to do with their heart.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Back in the early 80s, a pathologist in Florida suggested that the reason premenopausal women are protected from heart disease is that they have lower stores of iron in their body. The thought was since oxidized “cholesterol is important in atherosclerosis, and oxidation is catalyzed by iron,” maybe the “lower iron stores of [menstruating] women reduce their risk” of coronary heart disease. This novel suggestion, that “the longevity enjoyed by women over men might relate to the monthly [blood] loss [was] remarkable.” But, is it true?

Well, the consumption of heme iron—the iron found in blood and muscle—is “associated with…increased risk” of heart disease. Each milligram a day was “associated with a 27% increase in risk.” But, heme iron is found mainly in meat. So, it’s possible some of the other “constituents…in meat such as saturated fat and cholesterol are responsible” for the apparent link between heme iron and heart disease. If only we could find a way to get men to menstruate. Then, we could finally put the theory to the test.

Well, what about blood donations? Why just lose a little every month, when you can donate a whole unit at a time? This study, in Nebraska, suggested that blood donors seemed to have reduced risk. Another study, in Boston, failed to show any connection.

To resolve this question once and for all, one would really have to put it to the test. Take people at high risk for heart disease, randomly bleed half of them, and then follow them all over time, and see who gets more heart attacks. Maybe, it could turn the old “bloodletting” of the past into “bleeding edge technology.” And, that was actually what was suggested in the original paper, as a way to test this idea. It took twenty years, but researchers finally did it. Why did it take so long? Well, there isn’t much money in bloodletting these days. The leech lobby just isn’t as powerful as it used to be.

What did they find? It didn’t work. The blood donors ended up having the same number of heart attacks as the non-donor group. But, something extraordinary happened. The cancer rates dropped. A 37% reduction in overall cancer incidence, and those who developed cancer had a significantly reduced risk of death. An editorial in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute responded with near disbelief;  the “results almost seem to be too good to be true.” Strikingly, they started to see cancer reduction benefits within six months, after just giving blood once. Here’s cancer mortality as the study progressed. As you can see, the cancer death rates started to diverge within just six months. This is consistent with the spike in cancer rates we see within just six months of getting blood, getting a blood transfusion. Maybe, that influx of iron accelerated the growth of hidden tumors.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Judit Klein via flickr. Image has been modified.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Back in the early 80s, a pathologist in Florida suggested that the reason premenopausal women are protected from heart disease is that they have lower stores of iron in their body. The thought was since oxidized “cholesterol is important in atherosclerosis, and oxidation is catalyzed by iron,” maybe the “lower iron stores of [menstruating] women reduce their risk” of coronary heart disease. This novel suggestion, that “the longevity enjoyed by women over men might relate to the monthly [blood] loss [was] remarkable.” But, is it true?

Well, the consumption of heme iron—the iron found in blood and muscle—is “associated with…increased risk” of heart disease. Each milligram a day was “associated with a 27% increase in risk.” But, heme iron is found mainly in meat. So, it’s possible some of the other “constituents…in meat such as saturated fat and cholesterol are responsible” for the apparent link between heme iron and heart disease. If only we could find a way to get men to menstruate. Then, we could finally put the theory to the test.

Well, what about blood donations? Why just lose a little every month, when you can donate a whole unit at a time? This study, in Nebraska, suggested that blood donors seemed to have reduced risk. Another study, in Boston, failed to show any connection.

To resolve this question once and for all, one would really have to put it to the test. Take people at high risk for heart disease, randomly bleed half of them, and then follow them all over time, and see who gets more heart attacks. Maybe, it could turn the old “bloodletting” of the past into “bleeding edge technology.” And, that was actually what was suggested in the original paper, as a way to test this idea. It took twenty years, but researchers finally did it. Why did it take so long? Well, there isn’t much money in bloodletting these days. The leech lobby just isn’t as powerful as it used to be.

What did they find? It didn’t work. The blood donors ended up having the same number of heart attacks as the non-donor group. But, something extraordinary happened. The cancer rates dropped. A 37% reduction in overall cancer incidence, and those who developed cancer had a significantly reduced risk of death. An editorial in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute responded with near disbelief;  the “results almost seem to be too good to be true.” Strikingly, they started to see cancer reduction benefits within six months, after just giving blood once. Here’s cancer mortality as the study progressed. As you can see, the cancer death rates started to diverge within just six months. This is consistent with the spike in cancer rates we see within just six months of getting blood, getting a blood transfusion. Maybe, that influx of iron accelerated the growth of hidden tumors.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Judit Klein via flickr. Image has been modified.

Doctor's Note

I continue this wild story in my next video, Donating Blood to Prevent Cancer?

But what if you feel faint when you give blood? I’ve got you covered; see How to Prevent Fainting.

What might iron have to do with disease? See The Safety of Heme vs Non-Heme Iron and Risk Associated with Iron Supplements.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

121 responses to “Donating Blood to Prevent Heart Disease?

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    1. In mouse studies, giving young blood to old animals (or even studies where they join their blood supplies) causes a kind if rejuvenation in old animals – but a new study (http://news.berkeley.edu/2016/11/22/young-blood-does-not-reverse-aging-in-old-mice-uc-berkeley-study-finds/ , http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms13363 ) indicates that it apparently seems factors in the old blood that causes the problem, problems that appear in young animals when given old blood. ““Our study suggests that young blood by itself will not work as effective medicine,” said Irina Conboy, associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering at UC Berkeley. “It’s more accurate to say that there are inhibitors in old blood that we need to target to reverse aging.”” As the people in the studies Greger cites likely belong to an older demographic, perhaps removing other pro-aging factors – and not heme iron – forcing even an old body to replace what they’ve lost with new blood which may not have these factors, causes the beneficial effect observed.

      1. https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2017/01/vcam1-as-a-potential-harmful-signal-in-old-blood/

        “The researchers found that the amount of a protein called VCAM1 in the blood increases with age. In people over the age of 65, the levels of this protein are 30 per cent higher than in under-25s. To test the effect of VCAM1, researchers injected young mice with blood plasma taken from older mice. Sure enough, they showed signs of ageing: more inflammation in the brain, and fewer new brain cells being generated, which happens in a process called neurogenesis. Blood plasma from old people had the same effect on mice. When researchers injected plasma from people in their late 60s into the bodies of 3-month-old mice – about 20 years in human terms – the mice’s brains showed signs of ageing. These effects were prevented when researchers injected a compound that blocks VCAM1. When the mice were given this antibody before or at the same time as old blood, they were protected from its harmful effects.”

        So…donate blood to re-energize new blood production…and also transfer plasma from young donors?

        https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/08/an-effort-to-obtain-more-human-data-on-plasma-transfusion-from-young-to-old/

        “It was one of most mind-bending scientific reports in 2014: Injecting old mice with the plasma portion of blood from young mice seemed to improve the elderly rodents’ memory and ability to learn. Inspired by such findings, a startup company has now launched the first clinical trial in the United States to test the antiaging benefits of young blood in relatively healthy people.”

        1. Thanks Fred.

          I wonder if anyone compared the levels of VCAM1 between vegans (or at least 7th day Adventists) and SADers in the blood of older populations? Manyf so called aging effects actually end up having nothing to do with aging as such, but with detrimental changes caused by sub-par diet and lifestyle choices that add up over the decades.

        2. Interesting – I wonder about people who donate plasma regularly? Many donate 1-2x a week long term. No real loss of red blood cells.

        1. Here’s a few, but there’s many many. NOTE: Ferritin is the biomarker for excess iron.

          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26890363

          Iron and cancer risk–a systematic review and meta-analysis of the epidemiological evidence.
          Fonseca-Nunes

          Iron overload and its association with cancer risk in humans:
          evidence for iron as a carcinogenic metal
          Xi Huang

          The role of iron in cancer.
          Weinberg

          Evaluation of Ferritin and Nitric Oxide Levels in Breast Cancer
          Rakesh Dhankhar

          Web site of the “Iron Disorders Institute” as of 9-20-2016 entitled “Chronic Diseases Affected by Iron”.

          Iron and Menopause: Does Increased Iron Affect the Health of Postmenopausal Women? Jinlong Jian

          The serum ferritin concentration is a significant prognostic indicator of survival in primary lung cancer.
          Milman

          Could exhaled ferritin and SOD be used as markers for lung cancer and prognosis prediction purposes?
          Giovanna E. Carpagnano,

          particulate Matter in Cigarette Smoke Alters Iron Homeostasis to Produce a Biological Effect
          Andrew J. Ghio

          Total and Cause-Specific Mortality by Moderately and
          Markedly Increased Ferritin Concentrations:
          General Population Study and Metaanalysis
          Christina Ellervik,

    1. “Are you suggesting iron is causing cancer?”

      Possibly, but Dr Greger seems to be taking a more conservative view, that excess iron may stimulate the growth of existing cancerous cells in the body. That is different than being the cause of cancer, although it may be small consolation to the person who has a clinical diagnosis of cancer.

  1. As someone whose been on a whole foods plant based diet for 3 years now and a regular blood donor I wonder if there is any added health benefits to donating blood as the video seems to indicate that the issue seems to be with heme iron. Too bad they didn’t identify any vegans who gave regular blood donations in the study. That being said though regularly giving blood helps others and I will continue to do so for as long as possible although I may be forced to give that up soon as I have barely been able to reach the current minimum hemoglobin level of 125g/L and they will soon be raising the minimum to 130g/L here in Canada.

    1. You need B12. In chinese medicine, bleeding is part of helping cure a huge amount of chronic and acute diseases, because it make the blood to move= oxygenate, carry nutrients, hormones, detox, etc. Of course, giving blood, keeps the blood moving and avoid stagnation=disease prone problem, besides just iron accumulation.

        1. Blah, blah, the evidence is to you to read the over 5,000 years of experience of chinese Medicine, but you mental capacity is apparently very low, read, read, read! This book at least:”Blood Stasis, China’s classical concept in modern medicine” by the Dr. Gunter R Neeb, Foreword by Professor Zhang Bo Li. At least you can start using some of your dinosaur’s neurons and move your blood!! Peace and knowledge!

      1. Keeps the blood moving….haha from a comic book for sure! And you know that Armando needs B12 because you met someone in your bridge club that was vegan and not taking B12 supplements for the last five years? Stop giving medical advice to a person you never met or have a medical license…

    2. Just over 2 years on a vegan whole foods diet and I haven’t had any trouble with the minimum hemoglobin level when donating blood. In fact I had a problem once before starting veganism. Have you tried tracking your diet at all to look at how your micro-nutrients are being filled in?

    3. Non-heme iron isn’t as bioavailable as heme-iron. But vitamin C increases non-heme iron uptake. So does alcohol consumption. So it appears that iron levels probably do go up with meat consumption. One reason for this is that some of the plants we eat are natural chelators and would therefore reduce iron uptake.

  2. This is amazing findings ! But that’s something only omnivores would benefits, right ?
    Since heme iron is only found in meat. The same study on vegetarians could confirm if it’s indeed the heme iron the culprit.

      1. But also there could be yet unidentified factors in this connection.

        I think that’s the beauty of studies that relate results directly to actions. There’s no _need_ to know the exact mechanisms unless you are the scientist/doctor. One can benefit just by changing his/her actions for the better result.

        IOW Full understanding of causation is not necessary to reap benefits.

        1. In the study Dr. Greger referenced, there were 1200 periferal artery disease patients. The cancer in the blood donor group was reduced by about 33% and the deaths from cancer in the blood donor group were reduced by 65%!

          1. Yes. Exactly what I mean. We don’t have to know the exact causation on the cellular level to understand that donating or dumping blood is beneficial to our systems.

            We don’t have to focus on iron or whatever other constituents/contaminants of the blood are responsible. We can act now and give blood or order leeches.

    1. It’s not that heme iron is the culprit; it’s any excess accumulation of iron, which can, though not as likely, to occur in vegan. The problem is that ithe Fe2+ iron triggers oxidative stress and thus cell damage. That’s the prevailing theory on this. Fe2+ is the product of a toxic shock from chemicals or UV radiation to the Fe3+ which is safely stored in the ferritin. The iron is reduced and the resultant Fe2+ is released and becomes a massive free radical generator. This causes cell damage to proteins and fats and genes. Thus cancer, heart, Alzheimers and osteoporosis all have links to iron. A paper by one of the dean of Duke University Med School goes into this extensively. So EXCESS iron may be among the most significant causes of cancer.

    2. I spoke with one of the top iron science experts in the world. No difference between plant or animal based iron, except for the chelation affect of various plant related phytochemicals which slows absorption and lower absorption of plant based iron for other digestive reasons.

  3. Interesting. Is there more to come on this particular subject?

    I’m interested because I’ve donated well over 4 gallons over the years. The Red Cross used to call me in 4-5 times a year because I am O Neg which is the universal donor. I did it for nearly a decade. I finally got too busy with my career to take time out for the 2 to 3 hour process, and by then I figured that I had discharged my civic duty and then some.

    1. I think i’m O Neg too, don’t remember exactly..
      It’s the one that can give to everybody but only receive from it’s own blood type ?
      Never donated an ounce execpt for medical purpose.

      1. That’s correct. Those who are O Negative are know as universal donors, and there blood can be given to anyone, but those with O Negative blood can only receive O Negative blood. It is always in short supply because it is used when in emergency situation when there is no time to test the recipients blood type, or when the are out of the typed blood for the recipient.

        On the other hand, those who are AB Positive are know as universal recipients because they can take any kind of blood, although, it is my understanding that in practice, patients receive blood of their type time and availability permitting.

        1. Right. Patients receive their own type if possible. This is because even though we all can accept O neg initially, after a number of transfusions the patient builds up antibodies to the O neg (I’m on shaky ground here).

          1. I always try to B positive.

            AND that’s my blood type. It’s also one of the reasons I gave blood once. It was the most inexpensive way to get blood-typed.

            But that I pass out and fall down when I give blood, so I don’t anymore. Much. I bleed a little bit pretty regularly, but my last major letting was 47 stitches from a roll-over accident in 2007. My blood pressure has always been a bit near the low limit, even before I started eating right. This is why I’m quite sensitive to blood loss. I had to have a unit of saline to bring up my pressure before I could walk out of the hospital back in 2007. And then there was the incident of ’88.

            I better get some leeches.

            (TBC: I’m funnin’ here, I quit daily heme intake 2 years ago)

          2. As a blood banker I can tell you we typically give people the same type blood as they have except in dire emergencies. Everyone can get Oneg and almost everyone can get Opos except for the small percent of the population that is Oneg. Because these folks are rare and we keep their blood around for emergencies if we don’t have time to type the patient prior to transfusion, so we always need it and we’re always using it.

            As far as your comment about making antibodies to blood after a while, it is true that people who receive blood on a chronic basis can develop antibodies after exposure to foreign blood, even O pos or O neg. This is because red blood cells have hundreds of proteins on their surface called antigens. Not everyone make antibodies to foreign blood but those that do make it harder to cross match blood for transfusion as we need to “honor” the antibody in the full crossmatch. Everyone has antibodies to the major blood groups they don’t have – anti-A in a B patient for example. Not everyone has the other minor antibodies that usually only form after a prior transfusion or pregnancy.

    2. I’ve given about 7 gallons over the past 15 years (and 4 since I became vegan). I’m usually in and out of the local blood center in about 25 minutes, as there’s no waiting, I’ve nearly memorized the risk exposure questionaire, and I donate a unit in about 8 minutes. Grab a couple of juices from their cooler, wave goodbye, and I’m off to the next errand.

      Every so often, I’ll mention studies of potential benefits to donors to the phlebotomists, and none have ever heard of them. You’d think this would be a huge marketing point for blood drives. For those curious about how broad a scope diseases of iron excess may have, this site run by a iron test purveyor collects many full texts from the scientific literature.

      1. I guess I should give blood. My problem is, I have low blood pressure and get faint from simple bloodwork. I have to lay down or I will get sick and heave. So for blood donation they take much more, right? I guess I would just need to lay down for awhile during and afterward. For me it would be a much longer visit.

        1. I used to feel faint if I paid any attention to the donation process (esp the sample tubes), but now I just read articles on my phone, head turned the other way.

          For the less psychological dizziness/weakness, a unit is only 8-10% of the body’s blood volume, and most engage in exercise that puts greater demands on blood to keep the brain oxygenated. Its a matter of becoming accustomed to the slight post-donation weakness, and recognizing that unlike past similar experiences (flu, severe colds, emotional loss, etc), its not a precursor to inadvertent falls etc. that would call for sitting/lying down.

          1. Thanks for the advice! I’m gonna give it a try. My iron levels are probably a bit high from the blackstrap molasses I consume everyday.

        2. Some things you can try to keep your blood pressure higher during blood draws or if you try to give blood is a valsalva maneuver where you can hold your breath and increase the sense of pressure inside as if you were bearing down for a bowel movement. The other thing that research has shown in blood donors that helps them not get faint is a distraction technique where you wiggle your toes and feet. It takes the attention off the donation and can also increase your pressure as well. I am also a very slow donor and if it takes more than 8-10 minutes for your donation the plasma portion of the product will not be usable. If it takes 20 minutes to donate the entire unit there are often clots so it has to be discarded. This was my frequent problem so I ended up taking myself out of the donor pool. Most donations take 5-8 minutes once the blood starts to flow.

  4. As a long time blood donor, I urge everyone who is able to donate on a regular basis.

    There’s a long list of reasons why willing donors are rejected – frequent travel to Europe (true!), travel to Africa, certain operations, certain lifestyle. That markedly shrinks the eligible group of donors.

    Both my brother and mother required several transfusions over the years. What if there weren’t any units available. What if everyone assumed that someone else would do the donating.

    What if you need blood because of an accident or operation?

    This is a civic duty for all of us who are physically able. Please do this.

    1. I’ve been rejected because I’ve been to the UK to a conference once a year (most years). I still try to donate when there’s a blood drive, but I haven’t been allowed to do so in at least twelve years.

    2. I completely agree, and donate when I can. Always feel very happy when I have done so, and all the more because I am sure that all those veggies I am eating mean that my unit of blood is really top quality. Also, as a doctor, I have witnessed many times how much difference blood transfusion can make to a patient. Before medical school I even worked drawing pints of blood for the Red Cross. Having said that, there are many ways of giving and while I hope people would give blood, I am sure that there are other good things that other people are doing, which I am not….

  5. I read in introduction to some study that blood donors are somewhat more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease–is that true? Quickly googling, I can’t find anything. (Yay!) I’m a longtime, regular blood donor, and was a little down to think that it might be so.

      1. Good point (berries etc.). Here is article on iron and Parkinson’s Disease:

        Evidence conflicts on iron’s role in Parkinson’s disease:
        Researchers debate whether too much or too little of heavy metal in the brain raises risk
        By Laura Sanders
        Science News. 9:00am, May 2, 2016
        https://www.sciencenews.org/article/evidence-conflicts-irons-role-parkinsons-disease?tgt=nr

        …Writing in the April Brain, Hare and collaborator Kay Double of the University of Sydney argue that the chemical messenger dopamine teams up with iron to form a “toxic couple” that destroys nerve cells, or neurons. This troublesome duo, with their
        resulting chemical products, is particularly dangerous in the substantia nigra, the dopamine-rich part of the brain damaged in Parkinson’s, Hare and Double propose.

        Dopamine has a number of breakdown products, and one of these, produced by interactions with iron, is
        6-hydroxydopamine, a compound that “sounds innocuous, but it’s very damaging,” Hare says. “There are essential chemicals that you don’t want to put together.” Like gas and an open flame, dopamine and iron are best kept apart.

        When protective coatings that surround and protect dopamine deteriorate, or when iron levels rise, cells can be
        harmed by these unintended chemical reactions. And because the substantia nigra is awash in both dopamine and iron, neurons there may be exposed to an extra-large dose of 6-hydroxydopamine.

        But as evidence accumulates about the dangers of excess iron, other scientists argue that it’s a lack of iron — not too much — that endangers substantia nigra neurons.

        This part of the brain is packed with iron, but that abundance may be deceiving, says Tracey Rouault of the
        National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. She argues that the substantia nigra is a natural iron reservoir that simply stores the
        essential element for use. “People who don’t get Parkinson’s also have iron in those areas,” she says. “No one to my satisfaction has proven that the iron is excessive.”

        What’s more, those elevated iron levels seen in the substantia nigra of people with Parkinson’s may not be in the neurons themselves. Instead, iron may be packed inside scavenger immune cells called microglia, cells that gobble up damaged
        debris. “Our eyes are fooling us,” Rouault says. Neurons that appeared to be overfed with iron may actually be starving.

        Evidence of this starvation diet comes from experiments by Andrews, the Duke iron biologist, and colleagues. They genetically engineered mice to lack a protein that ferries iron into substantia nigra neurons. Without enough iron, dopamine-making neurons started to slowly wither, first losing their connections to other cells before dying. Movement problems accompanied this neural destruction, Andrews and colleagues reported March 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “If they can’t get iron in to begin with, they’re going to have a problem,” Andrews says.

        Even in the midst of an environment teeming with iron, it seems that these neurons aren’t getting enough —“the opposite of what people have been saying for a long time,” Andrews says. She points to a study that found that people who gave blood frequently in a 5-year span, and as a result may have been iron-depleted, had a higher risk of Parkinson’s. Still, more work is needed to show that a functional iron deficit is behind neural damage in Parkinson’s, she acknowledges…

        Citations

        D. Hare and K. Double. Iron and dopamine: A toxic couple. Brain. Vol. 139, April 1, 2016. doi: 10.1093/brain/aww022.

        P. Matak et al. Disrupted iron homeostasis causes dopaminergic neurodegeneration in mice. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Vol. 113, March 29, 2016. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1519473113.

        T. Steigler, N. Weiskopf and N. Bunzeck. Iron level and myelin content in the ventral striatum predict memory performance in the aging brain. Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 36, March 23, 2016. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3617-15.2016.

        D. Devos et al. Targeting chelatable iron as a therapeutic modality in Parkinson’s disease. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. Vol. 21, July 10, 2014. doi: 10.1089/ars.2013.5593.

        FAIR PARK II iron chelation trial

  6. I’ve been donating for over 10 years. Some years I donate the max allowable 6 times. I became plant based 3 years ago. When I got my blood work done a year after I became plant based, every iron test was low. Dr wanted to blame the plant based diet, but I felt there had to be another reason. I did some googling and found that blood donations can remove high amounts of iron in the blood. And its recommended that frequent donors, which are people who donate more than 3 times a year supplement with iron. I was never told this once in the 10 years I’ve been donating. Had to look it up. Once I told my Dr how much I donated he recommended I stop and supplement till I get levels higher. Also the finger prick blood test they do before you donate tests hemoglobin levels. They allow anyone to donate that is above 12.5 (US levels). That is below what is consider normal for lab results at the doctors office.
    Here is a link to American Red Cross about blood donations and iron levels
    http://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/iron-and-blood-donation
    There are 3 additional pages, one a FAQ about iron and blood donations- very interesting facts on how much iron is lost per donation and how even with supplementation its hard to get those levels even back to normal

    1. Plant based diets should actually reduce excess iron stores, because many plants have chelation properties and prevent absorption of the iron. But supplementing with iron was looked at in the Iowa Women’s study. Iron supplementation were associated with INCREASED death rates by about 10%. But that doesn’t mean that some people might not benefit, but I tend to be skeptical of supplements myself. IN fact, almost every supplementation was associated with increased mortality; exceptions, if I am remembering correctly, was Vitamin D or B12.

  7. Blood donation is an interesting topic. When we think of what is flowing around in the veins of those eating the standard american diet it could be interesting how their blood might affect others. (Other than the fact that whoever is getting that blood likely needs blood pretty badly)

    1. I’m reading that some benefits of receiving blood from young people v old, but no age limits on donors apparently so can’t be big or persistent effect. Some concerns with blood from (some?) previously pregnant women–immune response. I am among the fraction of adult donors who test negative for CMV (a Herpes virus), so blood okay for babies, cancer patients, and other immune-compromised people. Right now I’m holding off as requested after returning from a Zika zone. Red Cross doesn’t quiz potential donors on what we eat, except meds, which can affect how/whether it can be used. Lots of questions related to sex and to travel to countries with history of Mad Cow, etc. Sounds like diet is least of their concerns.

    2. I donate plasma. I eat organic, only grassfed/pastured meat/eggs/chicken, no processed foods, no prescription/OTC meds. Don’t drink, smoke. Considering the other folks I encounter donating, mine should be ultra- premium.

  8. I’ve donated many times. But I don’t understand why the Red Cross doesn’t pay people for blood. They would probably get a lot more and wouldn’t always be suffering shortages. Anything to do with health care is stratospherically expensive these days. As far as I know hospitals charge for the blood, and anybody who touches the blood probably has a good job. I can’t see it adding materially to the cost of health care.

    1. They used to but it backfired. Lots of “socially deficient” folks would sell their blood so they could buy their next pint of moonshine. They’d lie on their questionnaires so they wouldn’t be rejected. Lots of tainted blood got into the system. When there’s no payment involved, there’s no question about motive.

    2. Recently read “Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce” by Douglas Starr about the history of blood transfusions and donations. Pretty interesting (though often ghastly). It addressed the issue and history of blood donors vs “professionals” in great detail.

    1. Thanks for your question Thomas.

      According to WebMD, here are the normal levels for iron (see here). I did try to find a reference for optimal iron levels, but this is as close at it gets (perhaps someone else may have a publication that better addresses it):

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b0b3614628c576b4a210c2a5773ca07e943cec576a403f70b7de05ceac5b9f48.png

      The best way to measure it, the WHO has a great publication on this (see here, Chapter 7).

      Hope this answer helps.

      1. Thanks! I’ve looked at these numbers but I’m interested if the study results showed an “ideal” level, much like Ideal levels of vitamin D, which are higher vs current “range” numbers because there’s often a difference. I have a feeling that if there is no anemia, the lower the iron the better.

    1. Thanks for your question.

      Please find the FDA “Deferral of Blood and Plasma donors — Medications” here.

      According to Red Cross and I quote (see here):

      “In almost all cases, medications will not disqualify you as a blood donor. Your eligibility will be based on the reason that the medication was prescribed. As long as the condition is under control and you are healthy, blood donation is usually permitted.

      Over-the-counter oral homeopathic medications, herbal remedies, and nutritional supplements are acceptable. There are a handful of drugs that are of special significance in blood donation. Persons on these drugs have waiting periods following their last dose before they can donate blood:

      Accutane, Amnesteem, Absorica, Claravis, Myorisan, Sotret or Zenatane (isotretinoin), Proscar (finasteride), and Propecia (finasteride) – wait 1 month from the last dose.

      Avodart or Jalyn (dutasteride) – wait 6 months from the last dose.

      Aspirin, no waiting period for donating whole blood. However you must wait 2 days (3 days if you donate in New York State) after taking aspirin or any medication containing aspirin before donating platelets by apheresis.

      Effient (prasugrel) and Brilinta (ticagrelor)- no waiting period for donating whole blood. However you must wait 7 days after taking this medication before donating platelets by apheresis.

      Feldene (piroxicam), no waiting period for donating whole blood. However you must wait 2 days after taking Feldene (piroxicam) before donating platelets by apheresis.

      Arixtra (fondaparinux), Coumadin, Warfilone, Jantoven (warfarin) and Heparin, are prescription blood thinners- you should not donate since your blood will not clot normally. If your doctor discontinues your treatment with blood thinners, wait 7 days before returning to donate.

      Fragmin (dalteparin), Eliquis (apixaban), Pradaxa (dabigatran),Savaysa (edoxaban), Xarelto (rivaroxaban),and Lovenox (enoxaparin) are also prescription blood thinners- you should not donate since your blood will not clot normally. If your doctor discontinues your treatment with these blood thinners, wait 2 days before returning to donate.

      Other prescription blood thinners not listed, call 866-236-3276 to speak with an eligibility specialist about your individual situation.

      Hepatitis B Immune Globulin – given for exposure to hepatitis, wait 12 months after exposure to hepatitis.

      Human pituitary-derived growth hormone at any time – you are not eligible to donate blood.

      Plavix (clopidogrel), Ticlid (ticlopidine) and Zontivity (vorapaxar) – no waiting period for donating whole blood. However you must wait 14 days after taking this medication before donating platelets by apheresis.

      Soriatane (acitretin) – wait 3 years.

      Tegison (etretinate) at any time – you are not eligible to donate blood.

      Erivedge (vismodegib)- wait 7 months .

      Aubagio (teriflunomide) – wait 2 years.”

      Hope this answer helps.

  9. What about research on the effects of donating plasma (or platelets)? Now that would be interesting and perhaps help tease apart what is going on. I’m up to 137 blood donations now, mostly plasma now, which I aim to do every 2 weeks (because I can). Been pretty much WFPB for many years and never had a problem with the iron check (~165-175), even when doing whole blood. I do wonder at times if there are downsides, but I haven’t come across anything (not that I’ve looked hard). Maybe there are some benefits for me too? One interesting (shocking) thing I have noticed is difference in the colour of donations. Mine looks consistently clear golden. The nurses once showed me another donor’s plasma. It seriously looked like milky coffee. She said they probably couldn’t use it – the donor admitted to having pork for dinner the previous night and his plasma was full of fat! You could see globs of fat sticking to the inside of the bag.

    1. THere’s a recent study that showed that donating platelets had a beneficial effect in terms of not disturbing the hepcidin levels. It makes it better for getting iron stores lower quicker, especially for hemochromotosis sufferers who are plagued with iron levels that are dangerously high.

  10. My first conclusion from this video was that, whether of benefit to heart health (not) or cancer prevention (is), men and post-menopausal women should donate blood regularly. On second thought, believing that heme iron is the offending ingredient, signs point to a vegetarian diet (even though donating blood is still a good thing to do).

    1. I think you are correct that both are good to do. A plant based diet will not reduce iron stores that may already be too high. Iron is stored in heart, kidney, and liver and some evidence now shows it’s stored in the skin. But there is no natural excretion of iron. Iron just hangs around. Menarche reduces iron, and so does skin shedding. Bleeding, notably from the microfisures caused by asperin might reduce iron. But healthy eating only slows the uptake of iron.

      Heme-iron is more absorbable, but iron is iron. If you get too much in a plant based diet (it’s possible) you are in as much trouble as if you get it just from meat.

      1. It’s interesting that the video and our discussion has been focused on reducing iron stores. Still, iron is an essential nutrient and there are certain US segments (toddlers, women of child-bearing age and certain ethnic groups) that have significant levels of iron deficiency. I’ve always been focused on how to design a WFPB diet that provides adequate amounts of iron and minimizes foods that block iron absorption or increases iron depletion (such as dairy).

        1. iron in hemoglobin is a nutrient. But the iron in storage proteins such as ferriting is generally excess iron. THe vast majority of U.S. populace, perhaps about 95% are not iron deficient. So the problem is not deficience, but surplus for the most part. The surplus comes from A. meat based diet B. alcohol consumption C. vitamin C supplementation D. iron suppplementation in food and in vitamin product.

          You are correct that iron deficiency is higher in toddlers, young women, and certain ethnic groups.

  11. My question may be slightly off topichere – but still blood related.
    Does anyone know whether blood type (ABO) has any definitive impact on our health. I mean, are people with certain blood group more likely to develop certain ailments? To make it even more interesting, do people with RH negative blood type have any advantages or disadvantages when it comes to health issues?

    1. Thanks for your question Mary.

      According to this publication and I quote:

      “In two large, independent populations, ABO blood type was statistically significantly associated with the risk of pancreatic cancer. Further studies are necessary to define the mechanisms by which ABO blood type or closely linked genetic variants may influence pancreatic cancer risk.”

      See related article explaining the findings of this study here.

      Hope this answer helps.

    1. I think that the general feeling is that BOTH increase cancer risk, but that non-heme iron is harder to absorb. It may be harder to absorb because plants have natural chelation effect.

  12. Zacharski reevaluated his data in 2011 paper and I think he found that the phlebotomy worked for heart disease too. In fact, one study showing an 88% reduction in myocardial infarction in blood donors [Am J Epidemiol. 1998 Sep 1;148(5):445-51.
    Donation of blood is associated with reduced risk of myocardial infarction. The Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study]

    There’s even a book by one professor suggesting that iron is the worse toxin. Iron’s linked to 11 different cancers, and notably iron on the breath was tested as a means of predicting lung cancer in two experiments.

    VERY PERSUASIVE: Iron was shown to decrease mortality on a dose dependant basis. A study on non-hemochromotosis individuals showed that high level of ferritin (the storage protein for excess iron) on a dose dependant basis decreases life expectancy. IN fact, the highest amount of ferritin (excess iron) had a 25 year shorter life expectancy than the lowest group [Total and cause specific mortality by moderately and markedly increased ferritin concentrations; general population study and metanalysis. 2014. Clinical Chemistry]

    1. Thanks for your question Liisa,

      While I don’t always agree with Examine.com due to their support for animal protein, eggs and animal foods, they have a great article on cast iron pans that I recommend you to read (see here).

      Hope this answer helps.

      1. Thank you! Wow, it’s so interesting giving up my culture to include Grandma’s sweet (white) braided bread made with egg–and my grandmother’s frying pans–so old!!! I grieve somewhat but I have to think that I am passing on my own “culture”–a newer one.

        1. On the other hand, I would much prefer old iron pans to anything with a nonstick or Teflon coating. I can deal with extra iron but I can’t just donate blood to get rid of all of those extra, probably carcinogenic, chemicals.

    1. The Red Cross has this on their site: “Eligibility depends on the type of cancer and treatment history. If you had leukemia or lymphoma, including Hodgkin’s Disease and other cancers of the blood, you are not eligible to donate. Other types of cancer are acceptable if the cancer has been treated successfully and it has been more than 12 months since treatment was completed and there has been no cancer recurrence in this time. Lower risk in-situ cancers including squamous or basal cell cancers of the skin that have been completely removed do not require a 12 month waiting period.”

    1. Thanks for your question Tania.

      Taking everything that Dr Greger has stated on the current video, one could theoretically assume yes if the values exceed. To my limited understanding of this particular topic, I have only been able to find a handful of research publications but they are not entirely related to the topic, these were only investigating the role of intravenous iron for the treatment of anemia in cancer (see 1, 2, 3, 4).

      I will have to say the answer is not yet clear but hopefully future research will address this topic.

  13. Interesting discussion. In the mid 1980s I was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, an iron overload condition. The treatment is phlebotomy. My iron level was off the charts. At first, they took 500 ml every 5 days. This lasted for months, but eventually I came back into the normal range. Now, 30+ years later, They take 300 ml every 90 days or so, and I stay at the low end of normal, even with a diet high in leafy greens from my garden, and almost no animal products. The blood banks reject my blood. Back in the 80s I took it home to feed the iron to my roses. Now, they consider it a biohazard (medical waste!) and won’t return it to me in the collection bag into which it has just flowed. (The “they” used here refers to the wonderful people who have been providing me with phlebotomy services for the past three decades.) I’ve never had any cancer.

    1. I know at least in New York and North Carolina the blood banks keep blood from people with hemochromatosis. That has not always been the case though. I found out I had hemochromatosis in 1996 and started out with the same routine you did. After a year I started to go to my local blood bank with a prescription from my doctor and they use my blood they do not throw it out.

    1. I don’t believe they’ve studied that yet. The effect wouldn’t hold true if it’s excess iron that’s the issue. However platelet donation would work better if it’s almost anything else in the blood causing issues. Fred a little lower in the comments talks about how it might be a protein VCAM1.

    2. The process of apheresis used commonly for platelet donors returns most of the red blood cells however some iron is still lost. One blood page I looked at compared iron loss from platelet donation of 35 mg of iron Vs 220 mg from whole blood donation, hence why the frequency is 2 weeks for platelets and 12 for whole blood. So if the benefit is from the iron reduction, for platelet donation to match whole blood donation, you would have to do it weekly. However you may be able to reduce your level of ferritin with far less frequency…

    1. By FDA regulations you can only remove up to 10% of a person’s blood volume. The blood collection kits and anticoagulant in the bag are standardized to a 450-500cc unit. It’s almost impossible to find a 450cc bag anymore so you are left with the 500cc bag which is 10% of a person with a 5L blood volume. A person smaller than 110 pounds is going to have less than a 5L blood volume and there are places that are increasing the weight requirement to 116-120 especially for teen aged girls since they have a higher rate of passing out.

      It is possible to donate less but this is only for people needing to donate for themselves – AKA an autologous donation. For this sort of donation the anticoagulant in the bag has to be manipulated for the amount removed and the scale weighing the unit watched very carefully to stop the donation prior to usual amount so as to not remove too much blood from the donor. Clearly this is not the usual process and requires much more intervention and is one of the reasons why the blood bank charges money to do special autologous donations. DocBeccy – moderator for Dr. Greger

  14. If the group of people in this study were eating any variation of the standard american diet, could the benefits be simply because any new blood created by the body is going to be much cleaner than the blood contaminated by their diet? And if so, would giving blood be unnecessary for those eating a very clean plant based diet?

  15. I found out what the clinics, blood banks and hospitals charge some poor soul who needs blood…. I am NOT an enabler for criminals!
    Check it out before you castigate me for my determination NOT to donate blood!

  16. So do you think that maybe kosher/halal meat because of the reduced blood content may cause less cancer? I know based on my naive experience that steack produced from slaughtered animal release less blood during the cooking phase.

    An epidemiologic study on the correlation between cancer and meat consumption depending on countries consuming kosher/halal meat as the standard one compare to other countries may produced differences ?
    Any thoughts ?

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