Should I donate blood on a regular basis to stay paleo?

by (5916) Updated June 11, 2014 at 4:33 PM Created February 28, 2010 at 6:00 AM

I've read that some people donate blood regularly to simulate blood loss from paleolithic activities and injuries, as well as to prevent excess accumulation of iron. What is the word on this?

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6832 · March 27, 2010 at 7:40 PM

This article From The June 2000 Issue of Nutrition Science News gives details of ways in which the body regulates iron levels itself, meaning blood donation would be unnecessary.

It seems that healthy individuals in prime condition should have no problem controlling iron levels naturally:

In healthy individuals there is little if any unbound iron circulating in the blood. In all disease states, however, unbound iron (also called free iron) is released at sites of inflammation and can spark uncontrolled oxidation. [ 12 ] Fortunately, there are numerous automatic mechanisms in the body that help to control iron, many by chelation—compounds that bind to a toxic substance (such as iron) and render it nontoxic or nonactive. Albumin, a simple protein found in blood, acts as a chelator by loosely binding to iron. [ 13 ] Ferritin, produced in the liver, is another iron-binding protein. [ 14 ] Transferrin is a protein that chelates iron and totes it back to the liver, where it is metabolized and excreted. [ 15 ] The liver produces lactoferrin, another iron chelator, when challenged by infectious agents. [ 16 ] This is important because pathogenic organisms such as viruses, bacteria and fungi require iron for growth. Furthermore, as iron stores increase, the gastric absorption of iron decreases. So the body employs numerous mechanisms to control iron that are activated when threatened by disease. However, these defensive mechanisms can be overwhelmed.

Following a SAD diet could be one way in which these mechanism become overwhelmed:

In a relatively short period of time, dietary changes can result in anemia, iron overload or an ideal state of iron control. Anemia can be induced in about 120 days, while symptoms of iron overload can come on in just 60 days.

Whereas poor iron intake, or impaired absorption, may lead to anemia, too much iron—iron overload—is even more problematic. [ 3 ] After full growth is achieved, at about age 18 or so, excess iron accumulates in the blood of all humans at the rate of 1 mg per day. [ 2 ]


by exercising, a person loses about 1 mg of iron through sweat......

And some foods have powerful chelating properties which may also rectify iron-overload:

A 1982 human study was conducted to assess the effect of various drinks on iron absorption. A subject ate a standard meal of a hamburger, string beans, mashed potatoes and water. When green tea was drunk instead of water, iron absorption was reduced by 62 percent. Coffee reduced iron absorption by 35 percent, whereas orange juice (as a source of vitamin C) increased absorption by 85 percent. Contrary to other studies, milk and beer had no significant effect.

This all seems like a rather delicate balancing act to me; we may consume many foods which induce the storage of iron in the body and many foods which chelate iron from the body, creating iron-overload or iron-deficiency if these foods become out of balance. We then exhibit a diseased state, which in turn impairs the body's ability to regulate iron levels further, kind of like a catch '22 situation really....which came first, the diseased state or the iron imbalance?

Therefore, I would certainly go for a more refined approach when trying to regulate iron in my body; rather than donating a pint of my blood regularly. It just sounds so medieval.....

And even though Paleo eaters may be consuming a high amount of red meat - assuming that the overall Paleo diet itself is able to maintain a good level of health within the body - the inbuilt mechanisms for iron control should be able to function properly without any other intervention, regardless of what we eat.

11363 · February 28, 2010 at 3:06 PM

You should donate blood if you're healthy, eligible, don't need it for yourself, and want to contribute. The health benefits of bloodletting are unproven, unless you have an iron overload, as in hemochromatosis.

295 · March 26, 2010 at 5:33 PM

Dr. Eades does not suggest giving blood to re-enact blood loss from fighting, but to adress the body's lack of parasites. In our evolutionary past, most humans were infected with various parasites, bacteria, and viruses that fed off of our iron, and the body responds to that by hiding away it's iron stores. Dr. Eades suggests that this is why we do not have a mechanism for eliminating excess iron in our bodies, because we have not (until very recently) ever been without parasites. He also states that iron is an oxidant, and that damage from heart attacks and stroke come not from the initial event, but from the consequent oxidative damage from stored iron being released and reacting with oxygen in the blood. Lastly, he pointed out there there is a correlation (not necessarily causation) between both metabolic disorder and cancer with high iron levels. Take it or leave it, but that's his position.

118 · March 26, 2010 at 9:30 AM

Giving blood is not about reenactment it's about getting rid of potentially very dangerous excess iron accumulation. The body can easily adapt to the loss of iron by absorbing more iron from food. We normally only absorb about 10%. It has no mechanism for getting rid of excess iron. In our ancestors that was probably not an issue - not only due to occasional injuries but also due to the widespread presence of parasites that depleted iron.

One of the symptoms of Hemochromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes iron overload, is type 2 diabetes. The accumulation of iron in organs has all kinds of nasty effects and it appears to specifically affect the islet cells of the pancreas. Even non pathological iron overload may have an effect on metabolic syndrom.

If in doubt you could get your ferritin levels checked but I don't see the downside in donating blood on a regular basis. You could be saving your own life as well as somebody else's.

2117 · February 28, 2010 at 4:56 PM

The Eades advocate this. Use the "Search Inside" feature on the Amazon page for the The 6-Week Cure to search for "One Last Measure" and you can read an excerpt from the book on this (page 112 for those who own the book). Also search for ferritin for another part of the book. Their reasoning is that it removes unnamed toxins released from fat storage during fat loss and that it prevents an overaccumulation of iron over a lifetime. There is a reference list at the end of the book but unfortunately it isn't tied to the book content and I haven't been able to find anything in the book's reference list or on PubMed that supports these claims.

Honestly, I like the Eades but this just kind of made me roll my eyes. If you're going to advocate regular blood letting for modern humans, at least back it up with some references. I'd like to see some solid evidence that (a) such fat storage toxins actually exists, (b) that iron levels within the conventional normal range are too high, and (c) that regular blood letting is effective for treating either of these. Until then, I'm writing this one off as pseudo-science.

From a Paleo context, I can't imagine that it was common in the paleolithic age for people to survive regularly being in situations resulting in the loss of a pint of blood.

10194 · February 28, 2010 at 10:27 PM

There is a similar discussion on the merits or lack thereof of blood donation in the comments at Free The Animal.

I don't have a pat answer, but I remain skeptical. Here is how I am framing this:

Some people are making the argument that our ancestors (ostensibly) regularly lost blood via fighting or hunting, and therefore, we should mimic this via blood donation, as this is, for some unknown reason, healthy and/or "natural". I find this argument completely without any substance and in my mind, amounts to nothing more than fetishization of Paleo re-enactment.

A second, more cogent argument posits that a build-up of iron in our bodies is inevitable and/or "natural" (yet still undesirable) and would not have been selected against from an evolutionary perspective as its effects occurred too late in an individual's lifetime to affect their reproductive success (they died from this after having and raising children). Not to mention, this genetic iron build-up mechanism may have benefits that enhance reproductive success in other ways (e.g. sickle cell anemia and malaria).

This position also implies that the modern diet may exacerbate this naturally occurring condition. Therefore, blood donation may be, in fact, desirable and healthy.

They point to hemochromatosis, ostensibly a genetic disease of "iron overload" as an analog.

While the second argument sounds more reasonable, I still remain skeptical whether or not blood donation (blood-letting) is good for healthy individuals as I am skeptical that we don't have built-in mechanisms that allow us to manage iron levels in our bodies, as well as assuming the second argument is correct, I am not sure that blood letting actually has the desired effect.

1988 · September 07, 2013 at 12:44 AM

Paleo doesn't work because it is re-enactment, but because there is sound biology behind it.

30 · January 08, 2012 at 7:51 AM

What's the worst case scenario here?

You donate some blood that'll help out someone in need even though you didn't need to to control your iron. Unless you're chronically low in iron (which is hard to imagine if you're eating paleo), there aren't any significant health risks associated with donating blood, and in doing so you may have saved a life. Everybody wins.

145 · June 28, 2010 at 4:38 AM

you should donate blood to save lives

1302 · March 01, 2010 at 2:38 AM

If you're an adult male or post-menopausal female, the short answer is "Yes, unless you take IP6." Such people really don't have any way to get rid of iron. For paleo's, the problem is increased because the iron in red meat is very easy to absorb. Excess iron is linked with heart disease and heart attacks, stroke, angina, arthritis, cancer, and other problems.

The problems begin at ferritin (iron storage in the blood) levels much lower than would qualify as an official diagnosis of Hemochromatosis (iron overload disease).

IP6 binds to extra iron and allows it to be filtered out by the kidneys, without creating a shortage in iron that is being used in hemoglobin.

Reference: Iron Time Bomb, by Bill Sardi.

20469 · August 12, 2010 at 6:44 PM

A large segment of the female population already loses blood once per month, at which time, hemoglobin counts go down significantly. THis is a big reason why women are more likely to be anemic. I suspect this population probably would not benefit from any additional bloodletting. However, I still try to give blood regularly for humanitarian reasons. IMO, caring about your neighbors is very paleo. I see grey haired old ladies at the blood bank giving blood so I figure it would be embarrassing not to try to at least do my part as well. Besides, IMO being a weenie is not very paleo! ;-P -Eva

2525 · May 05, 2010 at 11:40 AM

Does sound suspect to me. However, I see no harm in giving blood - after all, surely Grok would have gotten into some scrapes from time to time? I've never found a decent source of information on what the effect on the body is of losing a pint of blood every four months or so. The last time I donated (before today's donation) a doctor at the blood donor station in London chided me for giving 'too frequently', despite not giving more frequently than the guidelines. She claimed that giving every four months was fine, but if done for a long period of time, your immune system suffered. Which also sounds like complete nonsense to me.

3112 · February 28, 2010 at 4:15 PM

This is one aspect of the paleo approach that I've never really understood, and certainly don't want to partake of. The strength coach Mark Rippetoe (who definitely doesn't follow paleo!) has a nice line about donating blood: "Sorry, I'm using it!" Obviously, if there was an emergency need, that would be different.

1576 · February 28, 2010 at 8:15 PM

I love fish. I give blood mostly for public policy reasons but partly because I think it lowers my mercury level. This is pure speculation, though. I have no hard evidence it makes any difference.

1098 · February 28, 2010 at 4:48 PM

I donate because I have a rare blood type, and also because I run very high in iron all the time. I believe that Dr. Eades thinks that excess iron is linked to heart disease

0 · June 11, 2014 at 4:33 PM

I'm one who has hereditary hemochromatosis. I found out earlier this year when I went into congestive heart failure. I now give blood (phlebotomies) twice a week at 250 ml a shot, but this blood is thrown away. My ferritin level at the time of hospitalization was an astronomical 26,205. It's now still excessively high at 5,205. I'll be looking into supplementing my phlebotomies with IP6 and green tea. Thanks!

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