'Blood-Letting' Delivers Health Benefits

Blood removal may lower cardiovascular risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The practice of blood-letting or bleeding patients was abandoned in the 19th century when it became clear there was little benefit. New research suggests the barbaric-sounding practice could offer a very real heart benefit.

Researchers have found that the practice of removing blood could improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol and drop blood glucose in obese patients with metabolic syndrome. These are risk factors of coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

They found that patients who gave blood had a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure -- from 148 mmHg to 130 mmHg.

"Discuss blood donation with your doctor."

Andreas Michalsen, MD, leader of the research and a professor at the Charité-University Medical Centre in Berlin, said he found that reducing iron stores by removing blood improved markers of cardiovascular disease and helped control blood sugar.

Dr. Michalsen said that blood donation may not only prevent diabetes, but also heart disease, in obese individuals.

It had previously been shown in clinical trials that  iron accumulation in the body is associated with hypertension and diabetes.

He noted that the potential treatment would not be suitable for anemia patients who already suffer from low iron as this could escalate their condition.

During the randomized study 64 patients between the ages of 25 and 70 with metabolic syndrome were randomly assigned to iron reduction through blood donation or no intervention. Most of the patients were obese women. Almost all participants had high blood pressure and 38 percent had type 2 diabetes. The second group was offered the treatment at the conclusion of the study.

Clinicians removed 300 milliliters of blood at the beginning of the study, and between 250 and 500 milliliters four weeks later among the 33 participants in the intervention group. In comparison, during traditional blood donation, one pint, or 470 milliliters is removed.

Six weeks after the second blood removal, following ample time for the body to replace blood volume, researchers took various clinical measurements including blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate.

In addition, blood glucose and heart rate was lowered, and cholesterol levels improved.

Researchers said the findings suggest blood donation could be a cost-effective treatment option for patients with metabolic syndrome. In addition they noted increasing the number of blood donations could also benefit the public health system simultaneously.

The research was published today in journal BMC Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 29, 2012
Last Updated:
May 30, 2012