Can blood donation harm your health? Here’s what the new study found. and other news

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

Many people donate blood regularly, but this greatly depletes their iron stores, which can take months to fully replenish, raising concerns that donors may be living “on the verge of anemia,” writes Brittany Trang for STATISTICS.

How blood donation can affect iron levels

The question that has “haunted the field of blood donation for as long as transfusions have existed” is whether blood donation can actually harm people, Trang said.

In general, the level of iron in the body is self-sustaining, as iron from old red blood cells is used to make new red blood cells. If a person does not lose blood through menstruation, trauma, or donation, iron does not leave the body.

Although the human body will replace the volume of donated blood within 24 hours, the same cannot be said for the volume of red blood cells, which can take months to replenish. For low iron donors, it can take more than four months to replace lost iron from donating, even though donors are technically eligible to donate every 56 days.

To reach the donation threshold, many regular blood donors take iron supplements to build up their red blood cells just enough to meet their next donation deadline.

These donors “live on the edge of anemia, so they can donate blood,” said Eldad Hod, associate professor of pathology and cell biology and vice chairman of the laboratory medicine laboratory at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

How donating blood affects donors

To determine how blood donation affects donors, Hod and a team of researchers conducted a study to follow frequent donors who were low in iron but not anemic.

During the study, participants donated blood, which was then checked for the quality of the transfusion and for the presence of low iron in donors. A total of 79 participants who donated blood had low iron levels and were blindly randomized into two groups.

In one group, participants received intravenous iron to correct iron deficiency, while in the other group, participants received a placebo in saline. Then, four to six months later, the participants were asked to donate blood again and undergo a quality-of-life examination, as well as a cognitive assessment.

Overall, Hod and his team found that there were no significant differences in blood transfusion quality, cognition, or quality of life between participants who replenished their iron stores and those who did not.

“The answer is not in line with our preconceptions, but is actually better for public health because it suggests that what we are doing is not harming our donors,” said Steven Spitalnick, executive vice chairman of the Division of Laboratory Medicine, Columbia Division of Pathology and Cells. . biology and one of the authors of the study.

Although the researchers found that transfusion quality improved after iron supplementation in women under 50 years of age, they said it was not clear whether this difference had clinical relevance and more research was needed. Notably, women under 50 are most likely to be denied blood donations due to low iron levels, as they tend to lose iron during their periods.

The researchers noted that future studies should explore whether blood donation affects adolescents, who require more iron to develop, or is it harmful to them due to their increased iron needs.

In addition, health experts have said that iron-deficient potential donors should not simply be offered iron supplements. Instead, donation center workers could take the opportunity to encourage them to find the potential root cause of their shortage.

Overall, the results of the study show that blood donation does not harm donors and that there is no need to add additional requirements for iron levels in donor screening to ensure safety.

“We’re not harming people who donate blood,” said Gary Brittenham, professor of medicine at Columbia University and another author of the study, “but we’re doing a lot of good for people who need it.” (Trang, STATISTICS9/20)

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Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at

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