Hemochromatosis – Does dontating blood reduce heart risks and heart attacks?

Leading Melbourne cardiologists have called for further research into claims that donating blood may reduce heart-attack rates.

The head of cardiovascular services at the Alfred Hospital and deputy director of the Baker Medical research Institute, Professor Garry Jennings, says the claim coincides with other research and is worthy of further investigation.

“For some time now there has been a suggestion that having low iron levels might be associated with lesser rates of heart disease. This sort of observation can provide interesting leads and it would be of great interest to follow them up in Australia,” he says.

His call for more research is backed up by the medical director of the National Heart Foundation, Professor Andrew Tonkin. “A formal research trial which examined the role of the effects of blood donation would be very interesting. The possible role of iron in the development of heart attacks has been a subject of considerable interest in recent years.

There is some basic scientific research to suggest iron can actually damage the heart muscle cells. It could also have an effect on the properties of cholesterol in the arteries.”

Both men warn that he findings, made by a Finnish team led by internationally respected researcher Dr respected researcher Dr Jukka Salonen, should be interpreted with some caution as blood donors may be generally healthier than others.

Dr Salonen’ s team scanned the records of almost 2900 middle-aged men over nine years. Of those who had donated blood at least once in the previous two years, less than 1 per cent suffered a heart attack compared with 12.5 per cent among non-donors.

Dr Salonen says donating blood may decrease heart attack rates by releasing excess iron from the body and dismisses claims that the variance is solely due to the better health of donors.

“We tried to allow for this in the statistical analysis, but it’s possible some bias remains,” Dr Salonen told New Scientist magazine, acknowledging that the non-blood donors were less healthy than the blood donors, having three times the rate of background heart disease. But this was a much smaller difference than that between the two group’s heart-attack rates, he said, and blood donors still had an 88 per cent reduced risk of heart attack compared with non­-donors.

A spokeswoman for the Red Cross Blood Service in Victoria, Ms Yvonne Bennett, says the blood service would be please to see further research in Australia.

“What we do know is the blood donating process does screen out, over time, people with health problems,” she says, adding that the blood service monitors blood pressure and iron levels, checks most people do not have.

by Adam Turner – Article taken from THE AGE: Sunday 18th October 1998.

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