Donating blood has health benefits!

I donate blood. I am lucky enough not to have any of the contraindications (most of the time, details below) that can prevent people from being blood donors, and yes, there is an extensive questionnaire that you have to fill out every.single.time you donate, even when nothing has changed since the last time you donated. (Blood centers are careful. They have to be, and I’m glad they are.)

I imagine that somewhere in the central Texas area, someone, or several someones, are grateful that I did this. I know nothing about the recipients, but I’ve needed blood in the past, and I am very grateful to the donors. My child grew up with a mother because blood was available when I needed it.

I learned last year that because I’ve never had cytomegalovirus, my blood can be given to infants, who don’t have an immune system yet, and to others with weak immune systems. CMV is a common virus that has infected 50 to 80 percent of Americans over 40. The crazy thing is, you can be infected with it without even knowing it! It’s not serious at all if your immune system is working.

I have no idea why I’ve never had it, and of course that can change, but being type O+ (as are 1 of 3 people) and not having had cytomegalovirus and meeting all the other criteria to donate makes my blood desirable, and it has motivated me to give more often because I may be saving a baby’s life. A dear friend needed blood transfusions shortly after birth due to an inherited condition. I’m glad she’s around because someone donated blood.

BTW, having had cytomegalovirus doesn’t prevent you from donating blood — they just give it to people with healthy immune systems.

According to the local blood bank, I’ve donated 17 times. There have been two reasons I could not donate blood:

  • I didn’t meet the minimum weight requirement for donating. It’s now 110 lbs. Since blood volume is proportional to body weight, taking the required pint would be too much of a loss for smaller adults.
  • screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-10-00-50-amI had low blood pressure. Last summer I tried to donate, twice, but my blood pressure was so low, they turned me away. It’s normally in the healthy range. After the second refusal, I recalled that eating salt raises blood pressure, and that hot summer in Texas made me sweat a lot and thus lose salt. I added more Real Salt to my diet, sometimes putting a quarter teaspoon into my water bottle to sip on through the day and sprinkling my food with it more liberally. Voila! My blood pressure normalized, and I was able to donate again.

When you donate blood, you fill out that extensive questionnaire, and then there’s an interview by a nurse who asks about anything iffy on the questionnaire. I’ve had cancer (two basal cell carcinomas removed) and I’ve traveled outside the U.S. (in Mexico in non-risky areas for Chagas and Zika). I don’t currently have any other red flags for donating.

After the interview, the nurse takes your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature, and pricks your finger to find your red blood cell and cholesterol levels. I tend to be over 200 on the cholesterol count (which doesn’t distinguish HDL and LDL), above the “normal” range. They let me donate anyway. There’s a major controversy about whether high cholesterol really translates to heart disease. Recent studies found that 92 percent of people with high cholesterol live longer.

Donating can also make you healthier:

  • You get a mini-physical for free each time you donate. As mentioned above, before donating, a nurse takes your temperature, pulse, blood pressure, red blood cell count, and total cholesterol count. After donating, your blood is tested for blood group (O, A, B, or AB) and type (Rh – or +), as well as a dozen or so infectious diseases, including HIV, Zika virus, syphilis, hepatitis B and C, West Nile virus, Chagas disease, malaria, and others. If your blood tests positive, the blood bank notifies you.
  • Each time you donate, you can help 3 or 4 other people. Those who donate blood for altruistic reasons have a significantly reduced risk of mortality than those who donate for their own health reasons. No word on having both motivations. (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/09/volunteering-health.aspx)
  • Most Americans consume more iron than their bodies need. Iron overload causes many problems, damaging internal organs and increasing the risk of diabetes, heart attacks, and cancer. Donating blood reduces iron levels in the body and can improve insulin sensitivity. Your red blood cell count is an indicator of iron levels. If it’s too low, you won’t be allowed to donate. This is the fascinating reason why menstruating women have a lower risk of heart disease than men. (https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/13/a-host-of-ills-when-irons-out-of-balance/?mcubz=1&_r=0)
  • Dr. Mercola says donating blood may be an alternative to taking statins for high cholesterol.

The drawbacks? Filling out the long questionnaire every time, the prick when the needle goes into the vein (over quickly), and the snacks they supply (all highly processed packaged foods).

I bring earbuds or a book to distract me during the donation process. I prefer to treat myself to a nourishing seafood (high in iron) dinner and make sure I stay hydrated. And I take it easy for a couple of days,

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