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Tuesday, 21 September, 1999, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Giving blood - the secret of a long life
Giving blood may help you live longer
Blood donors may have a lower risk of heart attacks than those who chose not to give blood, scientists have discovered.

The researchers claim the finding supports the hypothesis that people with more iron in their bodies are at greater risk of heart attacks.

Dr Jukka Salonen, of the University of Kuopio, Finland, who led the research, said: "We were extremely surprised to find such a strong relationship between blood donation and protection against heart disease."

The researchers studied the medical records of 2,862 men over a nine-year period.

Of the 153 who were blood donors, only one suffered a heart attack, but among the non-donors the heart attack rate - 12% - was 17 times higher.

The researchers, whose work is featured in New Scientist magazine, believe the reduction in heart disease may be due to the loss of iron associated with blood donation.

Artery damage

Iron in blood may be harmful
A previous study by the same scientists found that men with large iron stores in the body were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack than those whose iron stores were low.

High iron levels encourage the formation of a free-radical form of cholesterol that can damage arteries.

The Finnish team admitted that part of the difference in heat attack rates might be due to the fact that blood donors are usually more health conscious. However, they claim that could not fully explain the difference.

Dr Salonen said: "We are convinced a link between blood donation and lowered risk of heart disease exists."

Dr Kay-Tee Khaw, an epidemiologist at Cambridge University, said the findings should be treated with caution. She said a previous history of heart disease was far more common among the non-donors who were studied.

The British Heart Foundation issued a statement saying that the link between excess iron in the blood and greater risk of coronary heart disease had not been conclusively proved.

However, the statement welcomed any suggestion that giving blood was of benefit to the donor.

Patricia Murchie, publicity manager for the National Blood Service, said: "The research sounds very interesting.

"We have long argued that giving blood makes people feel good because they feel they are doing something worthwhile."

See also:

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