Blood Cholesterol

Blood Cholesterol Photo Credit: Clipart.com

Can donating blood actually be good for you? Science reporter Bob Hirshon has the answer.


Does donating blood get rid of cholesterol? I'm Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People who give blood generally do so out of a desire to help their fellow human beings. But listener John Davis of Redmond, Washington, wonders if a blood donor can get even more out of giving the gift of life. He e-mailed us to ask whether donating blood lowers your cholesterol.

Well, John, we asked Kirsten Alcorn, Medical Director of the Washington Hospital Center's transfusion service. She says giving a pint every so often won't do the trick.

Donation of blood doesn't affect your cholesterol. You're taking out whole blood, which certainly takes out the cholesterol that's in that portion of your blood, but your body continues to make cholesterol, and it also ingests cholesterol if you're eating food products with cholesterol and fats and so on.

So the cholesterol removed is quickly replaced, leaving your body's ability to make it unchanged. The best way to lower high cholesterol is still with diet, exercise, and drugs, if necessary.

So Alcorn says the best reason to donate blood is not to promote your own health, but to help improve the health of others.

If you've got a science question, call us at 1-800-WHY-ISIT. If we use it on the show you'll get a free Science Update mug. For the American Association for the Advancement Of Science, I'm Bob Hirshon.


Making Sense of the Research

March is Red Cross Month! The perfect time to consider blood donation. The nation's blood supply relies on a network of regular donors, volunteers willing to give a unit of blood every couple of months. The need for blood is great—on any given day, approximately 32,000 units of red blood cells are needed. Accident victims, people undergoing surgery and patients receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer, or other diseases, such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia, all utilize blood. Approximately 13.9 million units of blood are donated in the United States each year by an estimated eight million volunteer blood donors.

Besides the satisfaction of a good deed, what can blood donors get for giving the gift of life? Since the human body contains more than a gallon of blood, missing a pint or so won't cause any harm. But, could donating blood actually be good for you? Specifically, can it help get rid of cholesterol? Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels are one of the major risk factors for heart disease—the number one killer of American men and women. Doctors usually prescribe a regimen of healthy foods and exercise for patients who need to lower their cholesterol levels. Could donating blood help?

Now try to answer the following questions:

  1. Approximately how much blood is found in the human body?
  2. What is cholesterol? What foods have high amounts of cholesterol? What are the risks of having high cholesterol?
  3. Does donating blood affect your cholesterol level? Why or why not?
  4. Generally, what are the best ways to lower cholesterol?
  5. What do you think drives most people to donate blood?
  6. Why do you think some people are unable to donate blood?

For Educators

For more information on the American Red Cross, check out its homepage.

To learn more about donating and blood, its composition, and some diseases associated with it, go to the American Association of Blood Banks.

To find out more information about how cholesterol affects your health and how you can lower yours, visit the National Institute of Health's Heart and Vascular Diseases site.

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