Dear Alice,

I am going through my freshman year at college, and I came across a great way to help fund myself: selling plasma. I've been selling my plasma for almost five months now and have been getting mixed messages from many people. My mother insists losing so much of my plasma is why I've gained so much weight (which I feel is just the freshman 15). Others have told me that it can help later in life because the fluids put back into you thin out your blood, and therefore lower your risk of heart problems. I am confused and in need of the money. Are there any bad long-term side effects of selling plasma? Are there any good side effects?

Poor thin-blooded student

Dear Poor thin-blooded student,

Not only is selling your plasma good for your thin wallet, it's also a wonderful way to help save the lives of those who need it. Selling your plasma can be a very safe practice if levels of certain components in your blood are regularly monitored. The donation center should be checking your blood every four months or fifteen sessions to make sure that it's safe for you to continue giving.

Extensive, long-term studies have shown that frequent donation of plasma is safe. The majority of people who stopped donating plasma did so because of non-health-related reasons, such as moving away from a blood donation center or not having enough time to donate. One study showed that those who regularly donated blood had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but the explanation behind this is still unclear. Furthermore, no links between plasma donation and weight loss or gain have been found.

Although this may sound like very good news to your body and your bank account, keep in mind that there are still risks associated with donating plasma. About twelve percent of the subjects in the study mentioned above had to stop donating because of lowered levels of antibodies in their blood. (Antibodies are special proteins that help the body's immune system fight infection and disease.) Also, pre-menopausal women who donate often are more likely to have lower levels of hemoglobin because of the loss of blood during menstruation. (Hemoglobin is the iron-containing component of the blood that is responsible for binding and delivering oxygen to all parts of the body.) A lack of this protein may make people feel weak and tired. Taking an iron supplement may help counteract this, but be sure to consult a health care provider before doing so. For more information, check out Iron deficiency.

These health risks are greater if you're selling yourself short by donating too frequently, so it may be a good idea to take a break from donating every once in a while. Food and Drug Administration guidelines state that you can donate every 48 hours, but not more than twice in a week. Some places put stricter guidelines into play by limiting people to 12 donations per year, while others are willing to accept donations more often. Either way, if you're starting to feel more tired than usual on a regular basis, it might be time to stop for a while. If this happens, you could always use your newly found time to find a new job that doesn't require your blood (or sweat, or tears).


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