The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Blood Hero

The previous post mentioned I am writing from the meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Yesterday the ACSM ran a blood drive at the conference center. At a blood drive, volunteers donate a small amount of (their own) blood; only a pint. Giving blood is a helpful simple thing to do. Your body will quickly make more and replace the small amount you give.

You can give as often as every two months. Seventy-nine-year-old Lillian Bloodworth from Florida has given 160 times, spread over 40 years. Just giving one time in your life still makes you a hero. The single pint you give can be used to save several sick, even dying, people of any age.

Before donating, donors are screened through questions to make sure they have not engaged in practices that make them more likely to have diseases spread through blood. These practices can be sexual, injecting drugs for recreation or bodybuilding, even receiving tattoos or piercings. A small blood screening is done to assure that you have enough blood iron to make donation safe for you. Then you lie down comfortably while they take the blood from a vein in the inside of your elbow. A good phlebotomist (venipuncturist, blood donation taker) makes the process painless.

A common topic in sports medicine is low iron. Medical texts devote much attention to populations with lowered iron levels, considering it a bad thing. Just as important to consider is high blood iron level, which is one intriguing risk factor for cardiovascular disease. High iron levels have also been associated with unusual fatigue, and perhaps cancer. One, of many, reasons to cut back (or eliminate) red meat is high iron content. Conversely, premenopausal women who lose small monthly amounts of iron, and vegetarians and athletes have lower incidence of heart disease than the rest of the population. One of the factors is that these populations often maintain lower iron levels.

High iron is not only an issue with extreme levels, or a genetic disorder of iron metabolism, such as hemachromatosis. Raised iron level from dietary sources may raise cardiac risk, particularly in men who don't have the benefit of monthly blood loss. Understandably, people with iron levels that are too low are turned away from blood donation. Other people donate to benefit their own health by lowering blood iron.

Either way, it can be healthy and kind to donate blood. Need for blood donations rises in the summer and holidays. Check with your Red Cross.

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Bloodmobile license plate photo by tellumo
Blood donation photo by noricum

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.