I am always offering ways to improve health and performance. Improvement in these areas is an admirable goal for any individual.
My number one recommendation for everyone is to first improve their diet –replacing packaged foods with vegetables, fruits, and local meat and eggs.
However, an ideal diet, high in nutrient density, can have one unfavorable outcome: elevated blood iron levels.
High iron levels become an issue when an individual starts eating adequate protein but doesn’t participate in activities that result in bleeding. Historically, we would risk injury during hunting, defending ourselves from prey, or just living life with fewer comforts than we have now.
This is more problematic for men than women, as women have a natural method for disposing of excess iron through blood on a regular basis.
High iron levels in the blood can pose as an oxidative stress for the body. And, if you recall the concern of fats becoming oxidized, you’ll remember that it’s the process of oxidation that causes most of our health problems.
Many studies that claim red meat causes cancer, actually examine iron levels in the blood. It is well accepted that unnaturally high iron levels can indeed be a precipitating event in the formation of different cancers.
So, if we are shooting for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, and understand that grass-fed beef is the second healthiest protein source after seafood, what can we do to avoid the risks of over consuming iron?
Donate blood regularly!
This is something I have started recently and recommend for most healthy individuals, particularly men.
Not only can you help an individual that may be in dire need of blood, but you will also reduce the oxidative stress in your own body.
The American Red Cross allows you to donate blood once every eight weeks. This is because most donations will take about one pint of blood, which takes the body four to six weeks to fully replace. However, the plasma in your blood will be replaced within 24 hours so symptoms of fatigue should not last longer than this.
Donating blood is a stressor for the body, so you will need to curtail your exercise schedule accordingly. I usually donate blood on the Saturday before a recovery week. This means that I won’t have any scheduled exercise within 2 days of donating blood, and even when I do return to the gym on Monday, my workouts will be at half intensity for the following week.
Even though eating after giving blood can be beneficial, make sure you are still making healthy choices! Some donation sites still offer juices, cookies, or candy. I would recommend coming prepared with a piece of fruit or a protein smoothie.
Anemia, often caused by low iron levels, is common in our country and may be more problematic than “high-normal” levels. For this reason, I recommend getting a ferritin blood test before donating blood on a regularly basis.
On average, 10% of women nationally have anemia, while only about 2% of men have it. Because of this, I believe a regular blood donation schedule is far more beneficial for males.
Take a look at the effort you put into exercise. Consider how much time you spend shopping, cooking, and eating. Add up how much you spend on health insurance. Now ask yourself: is donating blood every few months to improve your health and possibly save a life, worth 30 minutes of slight discomfort?
Not every step we take to improve our health will directly help a fellow human – but this one will!