Why You Should Donate Blood Regularly

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Give your veins a round of applause; today is World Blood Donor Day, a fact that becomes more poignant than ever considering the news headlines about vast crowds of people showing up to donate blood to victims of the massacre in Orlando. It's important to use this occasion to recognize that blood donation shouldn't just be about responding to horrific events; hospitals are always in dire need of more blood, and keeping supplies topped up is an easy and free way to contribute to the health of your fellow humans. And that's only one of the reasons that we should all consider donating blood regularly, rather than just on dramatic or miserable occasions.

There are certain conditions that may make it trickier to give blood; I myself haven't been able to donate for several years, due to very low blood pressure, and you generally must be at least 110 pounds and over 17 to give blood. But don't worry about figuring out on your own if you can give blood: blood donation centers perform their own health checks that confirm your ability to donate. Regular donations serve the needs of many, help replenish a constantly aging and diminishing supply, do your own health good, and let you feel aggressively smug at your early morning meetings. There is essentially no downside to this.

Here are five reasons to commit to regular blood donation (once every 56 days is the maximum allowed legally in the U.S.).

1. It's Not Just Needed After Traumatic Events

We often only think about blood donation after hearing about a high-profile catastrophe that has left many people injured, from shootings to natural disasters. But there are less dramatic, but equally pressing, requirements for blood donations every day: leukemia sufferers can need six to eight infusions of platelets every day for a month, and blood is often required for women suffering catastrophic miscarriages or difficult childbirth. Kids with severe anemia, anybody having an organ transplant, and premature newborn babies also need blood. According to the UK's National Health Service, of all the blood donated in 2014, 67 percent was used to treat medical conditions like cancer, 27 percent was used in surgery and 6 percent was used to treat post-childbirth mothers.

2. It Helps Your Own Health

It seems strange to include selfish reasons in the motivations for a selfless act, but hey, we can't all be altruistic all the time. Medical Daily pointed out in 2013 that regular blood donation has some serious benefits for the health of the donor as well as the recipient. It turns out that blood donation is very good for your overall risk of heart attack; in one study conducted in Finland, people who were regular blood donors were 88 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular episode. And donating blood both reduces your blood's overall viscosity and shifts your iron levels, both of which have been shown to contribute to healthier hearts and lower cancer risks. Medical Daily also notes that a single donation of blood often burns an average of 650 calories.

3. One In Three People Will Need Blood In Their Lifetime

The need for blood is constant, for people dealing with everything from chronic conditions to those in serious accidents or traumatic situations; there's no such thing as a "down period" in blood collection. The most commonly repeated statistic is that one in three people will need a blood transfusion at some point in their lives, which means that if you have a reasonably sized circle of friends and family, several of them are highly likely to require it sometime. The Red Cross points out that, based on the rate of blood consumption in U.S. hospitals and trauma surgeries, somebody needs blood in the U.S. every two seconds. Donations are particularly important if you come from certain racial backgrounds or have certain blood types: blood donation drives often specifically ask members of black, Asian and various minority ethnic communities to donate as much as possible, according to the National Health Service, as rare blood types are more common among certain backgrounds.

Blood types are sometimes compatible with other blood types as transfusions; if you're A+, for example, you can give blood to people with both A+ and AB+ blood, and receive it from A+, A-, O+ and O- donors. A-, AB+, AB- and O- are rare types, so if that's your blood type, you should definitely consider giving blood regularly, as the supply of that type is bound to be lower.

4. Blood Can't Be Stored Indefinitely

Here's something you may not have known about the blood donation process: all blood, once donated, must be used within a limited time frame, or else it stops being useful. This is why donation on a rolling timetable is a good idea: replenishment of supply is a real issue for blood donation centers around the world.

Part of the issue is that blood donations are either used as "whole" or divided into their separate components, like platelets and plasma, for use. These components have different viability over time, according to the Red Cross: platelets need to be used within five days, while red blood cells must be used within 42 days. Only plasma and cryoprecipitate can be frozen and used up to a year after donation. All of them require specific kinds of storage and care.

5. There Is No Way To Make Artificial Blood

One of the most fundamental difficulties in medical science (and the thing that makes human volunteer blood donors so vital) is that there is no artificial material to bolster the process. If patients need blood, they're getting it from other humans or not at all. It's a horrifying thought, if you think about it: the entirety of the world's blood transfusion supply is dependent on other humans, and often on their sense of altruism.

This may not be the case forever. New Scientist reported in 2015 that replacements for blood in surgical settings may be inching closer to reality; some products currently being tested use non-human hemoglobin, often from cows, while others are being developed purely from artificial materials to see if they can carry oxygen around the body in the same way. The artificial experiment that's grabbing the headlines is the use of real red blood cells grown from stem cells in laboratories, which is hopefully going to be phased into use in the UK in 2017. The big problem with that one, as with many of the other artificial solutions, is producing enough "fake" blood to do a complete transfusion. By contrast, the Red Cross estimates that one human donation produces about one pint of blood.

So if you haven't already been inspired by Orlando's record-breaking lines of potential donors, hopefully now you understand by it's a good idea to drop into the blood donation center after work. Go on; they give you cookies!

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