Blood transfusions from younger people won't slow the aging process

Blood transfusions from younger people won't slow the aging process

During the Civil War transfusion was still very experimental and rarely tried, as thousands of soldiers bled to death from their war wounds. It wasn’t until World War I, following the discovery of different blood types in 1900 and the invention of long-term anti-coagulants including sodium citrate (to stop clotting) in 1914, that blood transfusion became widely used; it came just in time to save millions of lives. Since then blood transfusion has become a routine part of medical treatment.

According to the Red Cross, you must be 17 years old to donate blood (16 in some states with parental consent), but no age is considered too old. In fact, most transfused blood comes from older donors, with only 10 percent coming from people ages 23 to 29, and just over 12 percent coming from people in their 30s. The majority of blood is donated by people over 40, and almost half from people over 50, according to the AABB, a transfusion information non-profit. 

 

Patients ask me all the time if I know if they are receiving old blood or young blood, and I reassure them that either will be effective. At the same time, there is no convincing evidence that the use of transfused blood from younger patients has magical anti-aging properties to it. As a matter of fact, studies have shown no benefit in terms of outcome or survival when fresher red blood cells are transfused as opposed to older red blood cells. 

Nevertheless, a new startup, known as Ambrosia, started by a Stanford University Medical School graduate, is charging thousands of dollars to transfuse younger blood into older patients veins with the unproven promise of slowing the aging process.

Ambrosia clinics are sprouting up around the country, despite the fact that there are no published studies to demonstrate that this treatment is effective. It may appeal to the population concerned with aging, but it is worth pointing out that blood transfusion is not without associated health risks.

There is the fluid and iron overload to consider, as well as the risk of infection despite careful screening. Transfusions can cause allergic reactions, immunological problems (including graft versus host as with organ transplant), and difficulty breathing. As attractive as this process may sound, you are taking in someone else’s intimate blood chemistry into your body. It isn’t the same thing as filling a car’s gas tank. 

I remember a professor of medicine at Tufts, Martin Plaut, M.D., who wrote a novel years ago under the pseudonym Paul Martin. The novel, Heartsblood it was about a dying cardiologist (Plaut was an infectious disease specialist) who needs a heart transplant to survive but as no hearts are available he turns to his young disciple and whispers in his ear that he wants his heart.

That horrible request is more muted when it comes to blood transfusions from young donors, but the idea is basically the same. As a physician, I would only add that we all shouldn’t take the old cliché, that “youth is wasted on the young,” too literally. I think we should allow them to hold onto their blood, unless of course they are truly saving someone’s life by offering it.

Marc Siegel M.D. is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health. He is a Fox News medical correspondent.