It’s common knowledge that lifestyle choices and genetics play large roles in our overall health. While some factors are easier to quantify than others, these are relatively easy things to observe and, if possible, improve.
But what about your blood type? Research in the past few years found that our blood type might be more important than we previously thought, increasing the risk of certain diseases by over 50 percent.
Yet, most Americans don’t even know their blood type unless they’ve had a transfusion or found out during pregnancy. Consequently, they could be blind to possible health risks, from blood clotting disorders to cognitive impairment to COVID-19.
Breaking Down Blood Types
Our blood types refer to the ABO gene, which programs the blood cells in our bodies. In types A, B, or AB, red blood cells (RBCs) have either A, B, or both antigens. Type O blood contains no antigens.
The terms “positive” and “negative” refer to the presence of proteins on RBCs. Blood cells with proteins are Rhesus, or Rh, positive. Alternatively, those without proteins are Rh-negative.
Blood types with different proteins and antigens are incompatible. For example, if you were to give type A blood to someone with type B blood, their body would negatively react to the foreign antigens. Thus, we typically think of blood type in the context of blood transfusions, donations, or pregnancy.
Why Blood Type Is So Important
However, studies show that our blood type goes far beyond trips to the Red Cross or maternity ward. According to a 2020 study posted by the American Heart Association, types A and B have an 8% higher risk of heart attack and a 10% increased risk of heart failure.
The same study found that those with type A and B blood were 51% more likely to develop deep vein thrombosis and 47% more likely to develop a pulmonary embolism. Both of these disorders further increase the risk of heart failure.
While more research is needed, scientists speculate that type A and B blood are more prone to disorders because of their added proteins and antigens. Their proteins may cause more blockage or thickening in veins and arteries, increasing the risk of blood clotting and heart disease.
On the other hand, type O blood presents a lower risk of heart problems and blood clotting. This still-inconclusive data might explain the anecdotal decrease of severe COVID-19 in type O patients. However, type O blood presents a higher risk of hemorrhaging, which can negatively impact pregnancy and trauma recovery outcomes.
Our blood types affect more than just blood, too. According to a 2016 study, those with type O blood can affect the intestinal tract, increasing the risk of developing cholera. And another study found that AB blood might cause cognitive impairment, including difficulty with memory, focus, or making decisions.
What Should You Do Next?
Blood type alone will not guarantee the risk (or lack thereof) of developing a disorder—cardiovascular or otherwise. Maintaining a heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and regular exercise can lower your chances of developing health complications.
However, learning your blood type might improve the efficacy of preventative health care. You can ask your doctor to run a blood test to determine your type. Alternatively, you could kill two birds with one stone and find out your type by donating blood to the American Red Cross, which is currently facing a historically low blood shortage.
Whether you’re A, B, AB, or O, we can all benefit from learning more about our blood and, in turn, our overall health.