Do you know your blood group?
Unless you donated blood, received a transfusion, or found out while pregnant, you may never have thought twice about it. But running through your veins every second of every day, tiny variations classify your blood into one of these groups: A+, A-, B+, B-, O-, O+, AB+, and AB-.
Ongoing research on blood type suggests it may matter more than we give it credit for — at least when assessing risk for certain health conditions, especially heart disease. These invisible differences in blood can give some people an advantage in avoiding cardiovascular problems and can make others more vulnerable.
What does blood type mean and how are they different?
The letters A, B, and O represent various forms of the ABO gene, which program our blood cells differently to form the different blood types. If you have type AB blood, for example, your body is programmed to produce A and B antigens on red blood cells. A person with type O blood produces no antigens.
Blood is said to be “positive” or “negative” depending on whether or not there is protein on the red blood cells. If your blood contains protein, you are Rh positive.
People with type O- blood are considered “universal donors” because their blood does not contain antigens or proteins, which means that anyone’s body will be able to accept it in an emergency.
But why are there different blood groups? Researchers don’t know entirely, but factors such as where a person’s ancestors came from and past infections that caused protective mutations in the blood may have contributed to the diversity, according to Dr. Douglas Guggenheim, a hematologist at Penn Medicine. People with type O blood may be sicker with cholera, for example, while people with type A or B blood may be more likely to have blood clotting problems. Although our blood cannot keep up with the various biological or viral threats circulating in real time, it may reflect what has happened in the past.
“In short, it’s almost as if the body evolved around its environment in order to best protect it,” says Guggenheim.
The blood groups most at risk for heart disease
According to the American Heart Association, people with type A, type B, or type AB blood are more likely than people with type O to have a heart attack or suffer from heart failure.
Although the increased risk is small (types A or B had a combined 8% higher risk of heart attack and 10% higher risk of heart failure, according to a large study), the difference in clotting rates blood is much higher, according to the AHA. People in the same study with both type A and B blood were 51% more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis and 47% more likely to develop pulmonary embolism, which are serious blood clotting disorders that can also increase the risk of heart failure.
According to Guggenheim, one reason for this increased risk could be related to the inflammation that occurs in the body of people with type A, type B or type AB blood. Proteins found in type A and type B blood can cause more “blockage” or “thickening” in veins and arteries, leading to an increased risk of clotting and heart disease.
Guggenheim also thinks it may describe the anecdotal (but currently inconclusive) decrease in risk of severe COVID-19 disease in people with type O blood, which inspired the research. Severe illness from COVID-19 often causes heart problems, blood clots, and other cardiovascular problems.
Other consequences of blood type
People with type O blood have a slightly lower risk of heart disease and blood clotting, but they may be more susceptible to bleeding or bleeding disorders. This may be especially true after childbirth, according to a study of postpartum blood loss, which found an increased risk in women with blood type O.
According to a study published in Critical Care, people with type O blood may also fare worse after a traumatic injury due to increased blood loss.
Other research has shown that people with type AB blood may be at increased risk for cognitive impairment compared to people with type O. Cognitive impairment includes problems such as difficulty remembering, concentrating, or to take decisions.
Should I change my lifestyle based on my blood type?
While available research now shows that blood type can tip the scales in terms of your risk of developing heart disease, important factors such as diet, exercise, or even the level of pollution you are exposed to in your community are the main actors in determining the heart. health.
Guggenheim says that for patients trying to keep their heart healthy, there is no special recommendation he would make other than a good heart-healthy diet that reduces inflammation, regardless of the someone’s blood type.
But, he notes, future research could offer doctors more definitive ways to treat patients based on their blood type. All factors considered equally, a patient with healthy cholesterol levels and type A blood may benefit from taking aspirin every day whereas it might not be necessary for someone in the same boat with blood of type O.
“A balanced, heart-healthy diet in general will be what any doctor would recommend, and I would say ABO doesn’t change that,” Guggenheim says.
“I don’t think there’s a protective benefit to just having type O blood that contributes to not having scotch,” he adds.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.