It seems like everyone is searching for the best new weight-loss secret, from crazy diets to insanely challenging workouts, extended fasting or a prayer to the gods of metabolism. However, there is one potential weight-loss trick that most people would never expect – donating blood.
While most people see blood donation as a charitable or benevolent gesture, some people also consider the potential health benefits of donating – like killing two birds with a one-pint stone! The claim seems too good to be true, so what’s the real story? Is giving blood linked to losing weight?
Short Answer: There are certain side effects to giving blood that are good for the body, and can give you a temporary burst of metabolic efficiency, but there’s a bit more to it than that…
A Bit of Blood Donor Backstory
First of all, the average person has about ten pints of blood in their body at any given time, and the average donation size is 1 pint. For those of you who hate math, that means blood donors give up 10% of their body’s blood supply! Also, people are not allowed to donate more than once every two months or so, because it takes the body a certain amount of time to recuperate and get back to normal.
Obviously, when a pint of blood is suddenly drained from the body, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Peritubular cells, which are specialized cells found in the kidney, quickly realize that there is less oxygen in the blood – due to the sudden loss of red blood cells. These cells then release a protein called erythropoietin, which moves through the body until it reaches the bone marrow, where stem cells are made. Erythropoietin signals the stem cells to increase the number of those cells turning into red blood cells, which will speed up the replacement process in the blood. Furthermore, erythropoietin has been shown to have certain cardio-protective properties, so stimulating its release is far from a bad thing.
You may not realize this, but every second of every day, millions of red blood cells are dying and being replaced in your body, so the body is quite used to a relentless pace of RBC production. A high rate of RBC production is about 2 million cells per second. Upon hearing that, you may wonder why people are still required to wait two months before donating again… good question.
Producing new blood also causes the iron stored in your body to be pulled out of storage for the production of hemoglobin. Your body replaces the red blood cells within 48 hours, but it can take 6-12 weeks for hemoglobin levels to stabilize after blood donation. Therefore, more frequent donation would increase the risk of anemia and other health concerns.
Giving Blood vs. Going to the Gym
For those of you reading this article and expecting to hear that you can cancel your gym membership, you’re going to be disappointed, but there are some unexpected links between blood donation and weight loss, among other health bonuses.
As mentioned above, the average donation is 1 pint of blood, which weights about 1 pound, so right off the bat, you’re walking out of the donation center 1 pound lighter. However, that weight is easily put back on with the liquids you are instructed to drink after donating, along with cookies or other sweet treats to give your blood sugar a quick boost.
Everything that happens within the body, related to metabolism, comes along with some level of calorie-burning. Obviously, every action requires energy, including the production of billions of new red blood cells. Replacing one pint of blood burns approximately 650 calories, which is equivalent to about one hour of cardio – not bad!
So, donating once every two months earns you the same as a one-hour workout, which doesn’t seem that impressive (see above: don’t give up your gym membership). That being said, the real weight-loss benefits of blood donation are a bit more complex.
Some people have compared donating blood to changing the oil in your car, which is a fair description. New blood cells are better at holding and transporting oxygen than old blood cells that are wearing down, which gives your muscles and metabolism a helpful boost. When your body is more oxygenated, your energy levels increase, and your body naturally burns more calories during its daily activities.
It may not be equivalent to a daily workout, but regularly donating blood can help your body run more efficiently and aid in your weight-loss efforts!
Any Other Benefits to Blood Donation?
Aside from the small metabolic and calorie-burning boost from giving blood, you can also help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Both of these preventative measures have to do with reducing excess iron in your blood. Your iron levels can’t be too low, nor can they be too high, and donating blood helps keep that balance in check. As a mineral, iron can react with oxygen and oxidize, which can increase the viscosity of the blood and increase the risk of it sticking to the walls of arteries and blood vessels.
This “oxidative stress” on the heart can increase a person’s risk of atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in key blood vessels, which makes you more susceptible to heart attacks and strokes.
In terms of cancer prevention, oxidative stress is closely related to free radical buildup, and the mutation of healthy cells into cancerous cells and tumors. By reducing the level of excess iron that you have in your blood, you can reduce the chances of this oxidative danger.
Finally, when you donate blood, you are essentially getting a free blood test. Before being given to patients who need it, blood is thoroughly tested, and if your blood is found to contain dangerous pathogens, or raises a red flag, medically speaking, you will be contacted. Your blood won’t be used as a donation, but it can give you a heads-up about a potential health issue!
As you can see, aside from saving the lives of millions of people every year, giving blood has quite a few other health and wellness benefits that you never expected!
So…. what are you waiting for? Go out and donate some blood today!
- Blood Facts and Statistics – Red Cross Blood
- How Your Body Replaces Blood – National Health Service Blood Donation
- Erythropoietin, Modified to Not Stimulate Red Blood Cell Production, Retains Its Cardioprotective Properties – Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics