Giving blood is a great thing to do and more blood donors are always needed. Most people will never get to save someone else’s life in a dramatic scene that you might see in the latest disaster movie, but by donating blood you really are doing exactly that: saving someone’s life. Without donors many life-saving operations and procedures would simply not be possible and so it really is a wonderful thing to get into the habit of doing.
As we all know, vegans are wonderful, kind, ethical, amazing, extremely attractive (Ed – ok, give it a rest!) people and so many are sure to want to give blood. But can vegans give blood? Well, the really short and sweet answer is, yes, yes they can; and, yes, they do!
Why Might a Vegan Not Be Able to Give Blood?
The only things that would stop a vegan being able to give blood are the very same things that would stop a non-vegan being able to give blood. Whether you eat animal products or not has no bearing on your ability or eligibility to give blood.
So, if you are a vegan and feel like today is the day you want to do something amazing and potentially save a life, check out where your local donor centre is and get an appointment booked in. Note that at many donor centres you can just turn up, but you generally don’t have to wait as long if you have a specific appointment.
What Giving Blood Entails
Giving blood is largely pain-free, relatively quick and for the vast majority of people there are no complications or issues. Aside from the warm feeling inside you’ll get from knowing you have done a very good thing, you also effectively get a very mini-health check (your blood will be tested for certain issues) and, as if that wasn’t good enough, you will also get free soft drinks and snacks. Clearly, you’ll need to check they have some vegan snacks available, but often they will.
Pin Prick Test to Determine Eligibility
In terms of the tests done on your blood, the one that is done there and then is possibly the one that has caused some confusion with regards vegans giving blood. Prior to the nurses taking a donation, all patients will have a pin-prick sample of their blood tested to check their haemoglobin levels. For those who prefer short words to long ones, that means they’ll check how much iron is in your blood.
There are loads of great sources of vegan iron but iron is still one of the nutrients that vegans, in particular women (who menstruate), should pay a little extra care to. Studies have shown that whilst most men in the UK have enough iron in their diet, many women, especially younger ones, do not.
Women who menstruate need to consume more iron throughout any given month to compensate for that which is lost in their periods. There is only limited research looking at the iron levels of vegans and non-vegans but given some of the best sources of iron are animal based, it would seem reasonable to assume that vegans are at least as likely to suffer from iron deficiency as non-vegans.
Figures recorded by NHS Blood and Transplant reveal that women aged 17-34 are nearly twice as likely to give blood as men of the same age. This demographic is very similar to that which is most affected by potential iron deficiency and so it is easy to see why some could mistakenly believe that vegans cannot give blood.
If you are vegan and want to give blood it is a great way to “feed two birds with one scone” (as some animal lovers and vegans like to say!). When you go your blood will be tested and if you are found to be lacking in iron you can then consider vegan supplements, or alternatively, read our feature on veganism and iron. In that article, we examine the best ways for vegans to get iron through their diet (lentils, other legumes, quinoa and most bread are all great), as well as tips on how to help your body absorb and use as much iron as possible (combine with vitamin C, avoid consuming alongside certain tannins, such as those in many teas).
If your haemoglobin levels are too low on the day, you won’t be able to give blood and depending on how low they are, you may be advised to see your GP. They can give you more advice and possibly supplements if required but if you follow our tips you should see your iron reading return to normal.
After a period of time, you will be able to try once again to donate blood. You will be tested again, it will hopefully be discovered your iron levels are great thanks to the lentils and quinoa (kale and cashew nuts are great too!) and you will then be able to join the thousands of vegans already regularly giving blood and saving lives.
Who Can’t Give Blood?
Whilst vegans most certainly can give blood, there are some things, aside from a lack of iron, that could stop both vegans and non-vegans from donating blood. Before you donate you will be asked some basic questions and/or have to complete a simple form that will cover these and other potential issues. However, some of the reasons you might not be able to do this fabulous civic deed are:
- You are under 17 or over 70 (66 if it is your first donation)
- Your weight is not between 50kg and 160kg (7 stone, 12 pounds and 25 stone)
- You have a cold, cough or other infection/illness
- You have had an infection within the 14 days prior to donating
- You are pregnant or have received a blood transfusion during pregnancy or delivery
- You have travelled to certain areas of the world (for example malarial ones) within a given time period prior to donating
Note that this list is not exhaustive and that the donation service considers a range of issues including travel, illness and medical conditions, lifestyle and sexual activity, tattoos/piercings and whether you’ve have a recent endoscopy or similar medical procedure. Most of these factors do not automatically rule you out of giving blood but further investigation or a delay may be needed.
Please note that these factors and indeed all the information on this page relate to giving blood in the UK. Rules and procedures will vary from country to country, although to the best of our knowledge vegans can give blood anywhere. Always refer to the NHS Give Blood website for the latest information.