The Healing Power of Blood
Blood, the extraordinary fluid that runs through our veins. It nourishes us and sustains us. If our skin is broken, blood clots and protects the wound. It regenerates our bodies. It is our lifeforce.
Despite all of this and decades of research, we still know so little about blood, and we’re only just beginning to learn how to exploit its full potential.
Our past and ancient mythology are filled with examples of beings surrounded by blood. From the Egyptians to the Romans, Vlad the Impaler and Dracula, besides just being a part of us, blood has also been a big part of our history too. And let’s not forget the huge symbolism of blood found in many religions.
And a common theory cropping up over all that time is that blood can restore and rejuvenate us.
If you asked our ancestors, they might suggest bloodletting. For nearly 2,000 years, bloodletting was a common medical procedure that could even be carried out by your hairdresser. Someone with a fever or infection would have some of their blood removed in order to take away the “overheated” parts that would raise a person’s temperature when they were ill. As you can imagine, though, this didn’t always end well!
In Hungary, towards the end of the 16th century, Countess Elizabeth Báthory believed that bathing in the blood of virgins would restore her own fading youth. She is said to have slaughtered 650 young girls for this purpose, making her one of the world’s most prolific female serial killers to date.
While these stories in themselves don’t sound particularly cheerful – as well as being filled with potential nonsense and unnecessary death! – there might be some elements of truth in this old-time reasoning…
So, what would happen to older people if they were injected with that from younger people?
University of California biologist Dr Saul Villeda has been carrying out research on mice to find out. His theory was that if you took the blood of a young mouse and injected it into an old mouse, the blood would become transformed and rejuvenated.
And he wasn’t wrong. The old mice were found to perform much better in memory tests such as finding their way back to their nests, after a blood transfusion from a younger specimen.
Like people, when mice age, the neurons in their brains become tired and don’t work as well. But when young blood was added to the mix, the neurons starting sprouting new connections to other neurons and became as sprightly and sharp as the young mice they once were.
Although most of the studies in this field have only been carried out on rodents, clinical trials on human patients with Alzheimer’s disease have begun at Stanford University, which is also in California. These trials involve young volunteers donating their blood to the study participants.
“My hope is that we can identify the youthful factors in blood that we want to raise and the ageing factors we have to lower,” Dr Villeda explained. He added that isolating these components would lead to a much more controlled process than taking the blood of one person and giving it to someone else.
But that’s not all. There is also a special anti-ageing fluid inside our blood called platelet-rich plasma, or PRP. This can be obtained by taking a sample of a person’s blood, placing it in a centrifuge (lab apparatus that rotates at high speed), and extracting the PRP.
Why? Because the PRP can then be injected into a person’s face as part of a procedure that has become known as a Vampire Facelift. Of course, you don’t do all this yourself, and the PRP must come from your own blood.
Back in the UK, Janet Hadfield is the director of Biotherapy Services, which is researching PRP. She said that the process had been used for years already to treat sports injuries and promote the healing of wounds.
There have also been trials at the Royal London Hospital to see if PRP could help speed up repair in people with Type 2 diabetes. Patients with the condition are particularly prone to developing wounds that don’t help properly, and so far, the results are suggesting PRP could help with this.
While it isn’t very clear at the moment as to why PRP works in this way, it is thought to be something to do with the spinning action of the centrifuge. Large amounts of growth factors are released from the blood, factors that promote both collagen growth and wound healing .
This is where Dr Michael Mosley comes in. Although qualified as a doctor, he makes his living as a journalist for the BBC. He wanted to carry out some experiments on his own blood, one of which was the Vampire Facelift.
When he asked Dr Hadfield what he could expect from the treatment, she informed him that after a couple of weeks, the tone and texture of the skin on his face should be improved.
So, a couple of weeks later, he checked it out. “Just as promised, there were some subtle changes,” he said in his report for the BBC. “But it is expensive and the improvement was not impressive enough to make me want to do it again.”
But it does go to show that something was happening there.
On top of everything else, our blood is actually extremely nutritious, rich in iron, protein and vitamin C, and very high in calories (twice as many than in beer!).
Dr Mosley decided that one of his experiments would involve testing out this nutrition for himself. And what better way of doing that than making black pudding out of his blood – and eating it?
If you’re not quite sure what black pudding is, it’s a type of blood sausage usually made from curdle or boiled pork blood. This is then mixed with chunks of pork fat and stuffed into a sausage casing. It may not sound particularly appetising, but is considered a delicacy in quite a few countries – including the UK.
Dr Mosley carried out a total of six experiments on his own blood, recorded in his documentary The Wonderful World of Blood. It was aired on BBC Four on March 25, but you can check it out on BBC iPlayer here (it’s available until April 29).
So, what do you think? Are we all going to become vampires in the future, striving, like Countess Báthory, to find the secret to eternal youth through blood? Perhaps. Or we can simply wait to see what the scientists can discover through their experiments, and there may be a pill for that in no time.
Our blood is extraordinary!