You wouldn’t know it by looking at us, but within the blood that flows through our veins there are small variations that categorize each person into one of these blood type groups: A-positive, A-negative, B-positive, B-negative. , O-negative, O-positive, AB-positive and AB-negative.
Which blood type you have may not occur to you until you think about donating blood or if you are in the hospital. Some people find out during pregnancy, when special treatment is required for someone with a negative blood type.
But did you know that your blood type can play a role in your likelihood of developing certain health problems, such as blood clots?
Ongoing research into blood types suggests that they may be more important than we give them credit for. They can help assess your risk for certain health conditions, especially heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the US. These subtle changes in the blood may give some people an advantage in avoiding cardiovascular problems and may make others more susceptible.
But like most things that can affect your health, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind and remember that it’s not just genetic factors like blood type that matter. Your daily routine, food intake, how you manage stress and more all build your overall well-being, including heart health.
Read more: 3 Ways to Find Your Blood Type If You Don’t Already Know
What does blood type really mean?
The letters A, B and O represent different forms of the ABO gene, which programs our blood cells in different ways to form different blood types. If you have type AB blood, for example, your body is programmed to produce both A and B antigens on your red blood cells. A person with blood type O does not produce any antigens.
Blood is said to be “positive” or “negative” based on whether there is protein in the red blood cells. If your blood has protein, you are Rhesus, or Rh, positive.
People with O-negative blood type are considered “universal donors” because their blood has no antigens or proteins, meaning that anyone’s body will be able to accept it in an emergency.
But why are there different blood types? Researchers don’t know for sure, but factors such as where one’s ancestors are from and past infections that triggered 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 more likely to get cholera, for example, while people with type A or B blood may be more likely to experience problems with blood clotting. While our blood cannot keep up with the various biological or viral threats occurring in real time, it can reflect what has happened in the past.
“In short, it’s almost as if the body has evolved around its environment to protect it as best as possible,” Guggenheim said.
Blood types most at risk of heart disease
According to the American Heart Association, people with type A, B or type AB are more likely than people with type O to have a heart attack or experience heart failure.
While 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 one large study), the difference in coagulation rates of blood is much higher, according to the AHA. People in the same study with type A and B blood were 51% more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis and 47% more likely to develop a pulmonary embolism, which are serious blood clotting disorders that may also increase the risk of heart failure.
The reason for this increased risk, according to Guggenheim, may have to do with the inflammation that occurs in the bodies of people with type A, B or AB blood. The proteins present in type A and type B blood can cause more “clogging” or “thickness” in the veins and arteries, leading to an increased risk of clotting and heart disease.
Guggenheim also thinks this may account for the anecdotal reduction in the risk of severe COVID-19 disease in people with type O blood. (note: Since this article was first published, more research has been added to the notion that people with type A blood may have a higher risk of infection. This is because the COVID-19 virus binds to cells slightly differently based on blood type.)
Other consequences of blood group
People with blood type O enjoy 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 on postpartum blood loss, which found an increased risk in women with type O blood.
People with blood type O may also fare worse after a traumatic injury due to increased blood loss, according to a study published in Critical Care.
Other research has found that people with type AB blood may be at an increased risk for cognitive impairment when compared to people with type O. Cognitive impairment includes things like problems remembering, focusing, or making decisions.
Read more: The Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health: Foods to Eat and How to Get Started
Should I change my lifestyle based on my blood type?
While the research available now shows that blood type can tip the scale in terms of someone’s risk of developing heart disease, big factors like diet, exercise or even the level of pollution you’re exposed to in your community are key players in determining the heart. health.
Guggenheim says that for patients trying to keep their hearts healthy, there is no specific recommendation he would make other than a good heart-healthy diet that lowers inflammation, regardless of one’s blood type.
But, he notes, future research could provide more definitive ways for doctors to treat patients based on their blood type. All factors being equal, a patient with healthy cholesterol levels and blood type A may benefit from taking aspirin daily, while it may not be necessary for a person in the same boat with blood type O. .
“A well-balanced, heart-healthy diet is generally going to be what any doctor is going to recommend, and I would say that ABO doesn’t change that,” Guggenheim said.
“I don’t think there’s a protective benefit from just having type O blood that contributes to being scot-free,” he added.
Read more: Should you eat based on your blood type?