Revealed -- donating blood can keep heart disease away

blood-donationShift workers, take note! Donating blood could be an easy way to reduce your risk of heart disease, a new study suggests. Austrian researchers have found that jetlag has severe effects on red blood cells, possibly explaining the high incidence of heart disease seen in shift workers. However, these effects can be counterbalanced by fresh, young red blood cells - making blood donations a potential therapy for shift workers. The scientists, led by Dr Margit Egg from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, worked on zebrafish, a model organism which, like humans, is active during the day.

The fish were subjected to alternate short (7 hour) and long (21 hour) days, resembling shift patterns common in industry. It was found that 'jetlagged' animals showed higher numbers of aged red blood cells, which accumulated in the blood vessels. 'Normally there is a balance between newly produced red blood cells and old ones which are removed from the blood,' Egg said. Old cells are less flexible and become stuck in the spleen and liver, where they are engulfed by white blood cells. Jetlag appears to disrupt this removal process, but the researchers are currently unsure why this is the case. (Read: Every blood donor is a hero (Video))

Large aggregates of old red blood cells in the vessels are risky, because this increases the chance of a clot that could lead to a heart attack. This may explain why shift workers have a 30 per cent higher risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, the decreased functionality of the aged cells reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. The researchers also found that zebrafish were less badly affected by jetlag if they were simultaneously exposed to conditions where oxygen was limiting (known as hypoxia). (Read: 5 myths on blood donation busted)

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This is because hypoxia stimulates the production of fresh red blood cells. The cell signalling pathways which regulate daily rhythms and the hypoxic response are intrinsically linked. This is based on the observation that genes activated by hypoxia, such as erythropoietin, which regulates red blood cell production, normally show a daily rhythm of activity which becomes disturbed under hypoxic conditions. (Read: Ten facts you need to know about blood transfusion)

What is blood donation?

Blood donation is a process when a person voluntarily has blood drawn, to be used for transfusion or for other medical practices.

There are four main blood types: A, B, AB and O. Type O-negative blood (red cells) can be transfused to patients of all blood types. It is always in great demand and often in short supply. Type AB-positive plasma can be transfused to patients of all other blood types. AB plasma is also usually in short supply.

In developing countries, most blood donors are unpaid volunteers who do so for the good of the community. They may also donate blood for their own future use or to fulfil the deficit created due to the use of previously stored blood.

  • Donating blood is a safe process. A sterile needle is used only once for each donor and then discarded.
  • The actual blood donation typically takes less than 10-12 minutes. The entire process, from the time you arrive to the time you leave, takes about an hour and 15 min.
  • The average adult has about 10 units of blood in his body. Roughly 1 unit(300ml) is given during a donation.
  • All donated blood is tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis and other infectious diseases before it can be transfused to patients.
  • In India blood donation is voluntary and unpaid, this is normal in developing countries as demanded by WHO.

Who benefits from your blood donations?

  • Accident and burns victims A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood.
  • Cancer patients It is estimated that more than 1 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year; most cancer patients will require blood, sometimes daily, or during their chemotherapy treatment.
  • For those undergoing surgery
  • People with bleeding disorders like haemophilia
  • People with immune system disorders
  • People with sickle cell anaemia

Read more about Facts you should know about blood donation

With inputs from PTI

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