You don’t have to be a medical professional to know how important blood is to our health.

The average person holds around 4.7 to 5.5 litres in their bodies and it is responsible for a number of tasks, from regulating temperature and transporting oxygen to providing tissues with necessary nutrients and playing a key role in our immune system. It seems, though, that our blood plays an even bigger role in our health than we first thought. Studies are revealing that our blood type may have significant effects on our health by heightening or lowering our risks for certain diseases and medical conditions.

The different blood types

Blood types can be categorised in two ways. There is the ABO system where a person may have type A, B, AB or O blood. There is also the Rhesus group that determines if the blood is negative or positive. By combining these systems, you reveal your blood type. The most common blood type here in Australia is O positive and the least common is AB negative.

Many of us are already aware of the significance of blood type when it comes to transfusions. Usually, medical staff will match donors and patients that have the same type blood. If there is a limited supply, however, there are cases where donors with a different blood type may be able to assist. O negative blood, for example, is universal and can be given to almost anyone.

How blood types are determined

Our blood type is inherited by a mix of our parents’ genes. What distinguishes each type is the antigens (that is, the immune defence systems) that are on the surface of the red blood cells. As the name suggests, these immune defence systems interact with your immune system, which can make you more or less likely to suffer from certain medical conditions.

Risk factors

In terms of risk factors for diseases and other medical conditions, each blood type will have its pros and cons. For those with type O there is some good news and some bad news. Type Os are less likely to die from malaria. However, they have a higher vulnerability to stomach ulcers and cholera that is caused by bacteria and viruses. Speaking of the stomach, Os have a lower risk of stomach cancer than other blood types. There is also a 23% lower risk of heart disease and you are 37% less likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

For the men, if your work means you are exposed to pollution regularly and you are type O you are at a higher risk of obesity. Women with type O blood can be twice as likely to have a lower egg count and poorer egg quality. Women with type A blood are better protected against falling egg counts.

For ABs and Bs, there is some risk factors you should keep in mind. ABs have a 26% higher risk of gastric cancer and have the greatest risk when it comes to heart disease. Both ABs and Bs have a heightened risk of developing ovarian or pancreatic cancers.

It’s not all about the blood

It’s important to note here that you should never rely on your blood type alone to assess your risk. Other factors such as lifestyle habits and family history will also play a large part in determining your risk. It is always a good idea to go through your family history with your doctor and be well informed on lifestyle choices that can negatively impact your health.

If you are ever concerned about your health, or would like further information on your risk factors for medical conditions and what you can do to lower them (if possible), please make an appointment with your medical professional.