Body iron stores are correlated with and likely causative of cancer, heart disease, infections, and lots of other bad things, all of which I discussed in my recent book, Dumping Iron. This is related to the health benefits of blood donation.
The surest, quickest, most effective means of lowering body iron is through blood donation.
Lowering iron, whether through blood donation or other means, benefits health mainly over the long run, since heart disease and cancer don’t develop overnight.
But it turns out that the health benefits of blood donation — or therapeutic phlebotomy — begin immediately after donation.
A group of medical scientists looked at 96 healthy blood donors and measured the levels of C-reactive protein, pentraxin-3, superoxide dismutase, and nitric oxide in their blood both before and after a voluntary blood donation. Their paper: “One more health benefit of blood donation: reduces acute-phase reactants, oxidants and increases antioxidant capacity”.(1)
C-reactive protein (CRP) is an important marker of inflammation. High levels are associated with heart disease risk.
Pentraxin-3 is a marker of molecular oxidative damage.
Superoxide dismutase is an important detoxifying enzyme. Increasing it through genetic manipulation of lab animals increases their lifespan — that’s how important it is.(2)
Nitric oxide is an important signaling molecule that is vital for the dilation of arteries. It controls blood pressure and is responsible for many of the benefits of exercise.
The study was done in Turkey, where blood donor participation as a percent of the population is low; the researchers were interested in stressing the benefits of blood donation so as to increase donor participation rates.
Through nefarious means (SciHub), I got my hands on the full paper. Yes, I’m that interested in the health effects of blood donation.
Pentraxin-3, the marker of molecular damage, dropped by more than 60%.
Nitric oxide, the beneficial artery dilator, increased by 60%.
Superoxide dismutase, the detoxifying enzyme, increased about 33%.
CRP, the inflammation marker, dropped about 10%.
To emphasize, this all took place 24 hours after donation.
The authors comment regarding the reduction in pentraxin-3 and CRP, “We think that these reductions arise from reduction of iron levels.” I agree.
As for the other results, the authors posit various mechanistic explanations, but in my opinion what may be going on here is hormesis. That is, a blood donation causes a stress response which activates stress defense mechanisms, resulting in better health. The body senses a loss of blood and prepares to defend itself.
The benefits of blood donation are not confined to the long-term lowering of iron stores, although that is probably the chief benefit.
Blood donation appears to result in immediate better health, as seen in several biomarkers.