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Blood-letting might prevent heart disease - theory

Wednesday May 30th, 2012

Letting blood was the staple of mediaeval physicians - and mostly it was counter-productive.

But a new study suggests something similar could help people facing what is known as metabolic syndrome - which precedes diabetes and can be caused by unhealthy diet and obesity.

Removing blood from these people - or even taking part in blood donation - could have significant benefits for people with metabolic syndrome, German researchers say.

Metabolic syndrome is a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease which is increasingly widespread. It causes insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, raised levels of blood fats, high blood pressure, and obesity.

It has been suggested that a build-up of iron may partly trigger metabolic syndrome. So Professor Andreas Michalsen of the Charite-University Medical Centre in Berlin, Germany, and colleagues carried out a study in which 33 metabolic syndrome patients had iron reduction through phlebotomy, or blood-letting. Outcomes were compared against 31 similar patients.

The iron-reduction patients had 300ml of blood removed at the start, then 250 to 500ml removed after four weeks.

Average systolic blood pressure fell significantly from 148.5 mmHg to 130.5 mmHg in the phlebotomy group, and non-significantly from 144.7 mmHg to 143.8 mmHg in the control group. However, insulin sensitivity did not change.

Phlebotomy also benefited blood glucose, glucose in the plasma, cholesterol levels and heart rate.

Results appear in the journal BMC Medicine today (May 30). The authors conclude: "In patients with metabolic syndrome, phlebotomy, with consecutive reduction of body iron stores, lowered blood pressure and resulted in improvements in markers of cardiovascular risk and glycaemic control.

"Blood donation may have beneficial effects for blood donors with metabolic syndrome."

Professor Michalsen added: "Blood donation may prevent not just diabetes but also cardiovascular disease for the obese. Obviously this treatment will not be suitable for people with anaemia, however for those eligible for treatment blood donation may prevent escalation of their condition."

Effects of phlebotomy-induced reduction of body iron stores on metabolic syndrome: Results from a randomized clinical trial. Houschyar, K. S. et al. BMC Medicine May 30 2012.

Tags: Diabetes | Diet & Food | Europe | Heart Health

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