Can Donating Blood Reduce Levels of Toxic Chemicals?

Yes, according to a first-of-its-kind Australian study. The clinical trial, published in JAMA Network Open, involved 285 Australian firefighters with elevated blood levels of a PFAS called perfluorooctane sulfonate. 

Also known as “forever chemicals” because they stay in the body so long, PFAS are toxic manufacturing chemicals found in numerous items, including carpets, non-stick cookware, and firefighting foams. Not surprisingly, firefighters are exposed to very high levels of PFAS. 

A Novel Way to Cleanse the Blood of PFAS

Up until now, doctors have had no treatment options for patients exposed to high levels of PFAS. These noxious substances have been linked to multiple health issues, including impaired immune function, obesity, and liver and thyroid problems.

For this study, researchers separated participants into three groups: those who donated plasma every six weeks for a year, those who donated blood every 12 weeks for a year, and a control group. Both regular plasma and blood donations produced a significant reduction in blood levels of PFAS compared to the control group. While both interventions helped lower PFAS levels, plasma had an edge over blood donations, corresponding with a 30 percent reduction in PFAS levels. 

The scientists noted that more research is needed to evaluate the connection between the reduction of PFAS levels and health issues.

“To our knowledge, this is the first randomized clinical trial to systematically quantify whether plasma or blood removal is an effective strategy for reducing serum PFAS levels. Plasma donations resulted in a more substantial decrease in serum PFAS levels than blood donations, and both treatments were more effective than observation alone. This difference may arise because participants in the plasma group were able to donate every 6 weeks rather than every 12 weeks for whole blood. Each plasma donation can amount to as much as 800 mL compared with 470 mL for whole blood,” say the study authors.

Conclusion

“This randomized clinical trial showed that regular blood or plasma donations result in a significant reduction in serum PFAS levels for participants with a baseline PFOS level of 5 ng/mL or more; plasma donations reduced levels more quickly than blood donations. Blood and plasma removal are relatively straightforward procedures, and, provided they are performed under medical supervision, the risks to the patient are minimal. Further research is warranted to investigate the clinical effects of reducing PFAS levels and to better define the cohorts who would benefit most from these interventions.”

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