The effect of frequent whole blood donation on ferritin, hepcidin, and subclinical atherosclerosis

Transfusion. 2013 Jul;53(7):1468-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1537-2995.2012.03916.x. Epub 2012 Oct 9.


Background: Iron catalyzes the formation of free radicals, which could lead to damaged vascular walls and subsequent atherosclerosis. Blood donation decreases iron stores and can thus decrease cardiovascular risk. Even within blood donors, differences in stored iron are observed. This study investigates whether increasing lifetime number of donations decreases the extent of subclinical atherosclerosis within blood donors.

Study design and methods: Subclinical atherosclerosis was evaluated in 269 blood donors by measuring intima-media thickness (IMT), pulse-wave velocity (PWV), and ankle-brachial index (ABI). Lifetime number of whole blood donations was categorized into sex-specific donation tertiles.

Results: Ferritin and hepcidin were lower in high-frequency donors compared to low-frequency donors. Donors in the third sex-specific donation tertile had on average a 0.3% (95% confidence interval [CI], -3.6 to +3.0%) lower IMT, a 2.1% (95% CI, -3.9 to +8.0%) higher PWV, and a 1.5% (95% CI, -1.4 to +4.5%) higher ABI compared to donors in the first sex-specific donation tertile.

Conclusion: With such small differences and no consistent trend across donation groups, it cannot be concluded that blood donation has a beneficial effect on the extent of subclinical atherosclerosis.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides / blood*
  • Atherosclerosis / blood
  • Atherosclerosis / prevention & control*
  • Blood Donors*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood*
  • Hepcidins
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Antimicrobial Cationic Peptides
  • HAMP protein, human
  • Hepcidins
  • Ferritins
  • Iron