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Researchers identify association between blood groups and longevity

Having a non-O blood group is associated with an increased risk of death, particularly from cardiovascular disease (such as ischemic heart disease and stroke), according to research published in open access journal BMC Medicine. These results could be used alongside of other measures for weighing up risk of death from certain diseases.

Determination of the blood group is based on genetic inheritance from our parents. The differences in the blood groups are brought about by variations in the antigens – molecules– found on the surface of all human cells, including red blood cells. The main blood group system, in humans, consists of four types: A, B, AB and O.

Researchers from the US National Cancer Institute and Tehran University of Medical Sciences studied a cohort of 50,045 people over the age of 40 in Iran since 2004. All participants were initially interviewed and their blood type determined. This cohort was followed-up on a yearly basis with a follow-up rate of 99%. During an average period of 7 years, 3623 of the cohort participants died. The most common causes of death were cardiovascular disease (1879 participants, 51.9% of total deaths) and cancer (775 people, 21.4% of total deaths).

The results of the study showed that during this follow-up, people with non-O blood group (A, B and AB), had, on average, 9% higher risk of death from a medical disease, and 15% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. There was no significant association between blood groups and dying from cancer, but an increased risk of developing gastric cancer was seen among those having the A and B blood groups.

Although many health impacts of blood groups, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, have been studied before, this is the first study to look at blood groups and longevity in the general population. The researchers also found that cholesterol levels are higher among certain blood groups. They believe that although some of the increase in mortality could be due to these differences in cholesterol levels, the effect of blood group antigens on blood coagulation and thrombus formation is another important mechanism, but further studies are needed to verify this.

Lead author, Arash Etemadi from the US National Cancer Institute, says: “These results may have implications for risk screening in individuals with certain blood groups. Doctors assess the risk of cardiovascular disease and death based on several ‘risk factors’; some of these factors such as smoking and obesity are modifiable, and some like age and sex are not. So we should probably consider people’s blood type as a potential non-modifiable contributor to the risk, and doctors may, in some cases, choose to consider a more vigorous approach to targeting modifiable risk factors among people with non-O blood types.”

-ENDS-

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Notes to editor:

1. Research article
Regional alcohol consumption and alcohol-related mortality in Great Britain: novel insights using retail sales data
Mark Robinson, Deborah Shipton, David Walsh, Bruce Whyte and Gerry McCartney
BMC Medicine 2015

Article available at journal website here.

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

2. BMC Medicine is the flagship medical journal of the BMC series, publishing original research, commentaries and reviews that are either of significant interest to all areas of medicine and clinical practice, or provide key translational or clinical advances in a specific field.

3. BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector. 

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