One of the most altruistic and easiest things to do is to give blood. But you may not realize just how much it can improve your heart health.
“Blood viscosity” is one of the most important, but least understood, factors in cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and a factor in one-third of all deaths. And how thick and sticky your blood is—how much friction your blood creates moving through the blood vessels— is a major factor in determining how much abrasion and damage it does to the lining cells (endothelium) of your arteries.
According to Dr. Ralph Holsworth, DO, the top expert in blood viscosity in the US, when your endothelium is damaged, your body “patches” the tissue with lipids (fats) which begin to thicken and harden, forming a “plaque.” And that creates a vicious cycle: abrasion from your blood flow prompts the body to thicken artery walls, which reduces the size of blood vessels, which creates more friction with the blood flow, which makes more “patches” form, until the artery wall becomes so thick that blood can no longer flow through. And that produces a heart attack. A study in Scotland found that a group of patients with extensive heart disease had much higher blood viscosity levels than the healthy control group.
As our friend Jonathan V. Wright, MD, put it in a recent newsletter article, “Think for just a moment: If your blood is thick and sticky, is it going to flow along as easily in your arteries and veins as blood that is thinner and less sticky? Does tomato paste flow as easily as tomato juice? Of course not.” Blood that’s too thick also hinders your body’s ability to deliver nutrients like oxygen, which are carried to your cells and tissues by your blood, to the “farthest reaches” of your circulatory system. That’s why the legs, which are the furthest from your heart, often display circulatory problems first.
The good news is that your risk of heart attack can be reduced by reducing your blood viscosity—and the best way to do this is to give some blood regularly. Men are much more susceptible to circulatory viscosity problems than menstruating women are: the blood lost from menstruation seems to have a protective effect. However, after menopause women’s risk begins to approach that of men, and women with irregular or absent periods are 28% more likely to develop heart disease than women with regular periods.
In the past, men have been told that donating blood will reduce the level of iron in their blood and that this was heart protective. This is true, but it now appears that reducing one’s iron levels, while important, is not nearly as important as controlling blood viscosity.
It also appears that the most efficient way to control your blood viscosity is simply to donate some of it! A study of nearly 3,000 middle-aged men found that men who donated blood had 88% less risk of acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) compared to men who didn’t donate.
In light of this research, Dr. Wright suggested that ANH-USA launch a new campaign to encourage not only our readers but everyone to donate blood regularly. This is a great idea. Let’s all do it. We’ll live longer, and we may save someone else’s life!
Blood donations are urgently needed. According to America’s Blood Centers, community blood centers have lost thousands of loyal potential donors due to new deferrals put in place by the FDA—some of which have been criticized as unnecessary and based on questionable science.
But some people cannot donate blood for quite legitimate reasons. What if you fall into that category? Not to worry! You might be able to find an integrative doctor who will draw your blood, which will not be used for donation. Alternatively you can still reduce your risk of heart attack and lower your blood viscosity by taking high-quality fish oil. As Dr. Wright emphasizes, fish oil should be paired with vitamin E as “mixed tocopherols” to prevent damage from oxidized lipids. Regular vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol alone, so be sure it is mixed tocopherols.
Of course, as in most areas of life, there can be too much of a good thing. Too-thin blood can also be a problem, so blood viscosity should be measured before increasing fish oil intake. Have your blood viscosity tested by your doctor to determine how frequently you should donate blood or how much fish oil you should take to reduce your personal risk of heart attack and optimize your blood flow. Dr. Wright’s Meridian Valley Laboratories offers Whole Blood Viscosity tests (you can reach them toll-free at 855-405-8378).
Help yourself, and help another!