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When All That’s Plasma Is Gold (or Not)

Wednesday 12th Dec 2018

We all know blood is red. But did you know that its colour comes from your red blood cells, which actually make up less than half of your blood?

Those red cells are carried by a component of your blood called plasma. By itself — as any plasma donor knows — this powerful part of your blood is usually yellow.

So, why is plasma yellow? And, is it possible for it to be any colour other than yellow?

Well, for starters, one thing that causes it to be yellow is a pigment called bilirubin. Bilirubin is made when iron-containing compounds in your blood called heme are broken down. Heme makes your red blood cells red and transports oxygen in your blood. Bilirubin moves around your blood stream until it ends up at your liver, which removes it from your body. Carotenoids (related to vitamin A and found in carrots) and haemoglobin can also contribute to plasma’s golden hue.

So, what about other colours of plasma? Well, two of the more common shades in the plasma rainbow are white and green.

White plasma, often called ‘milky white’, happens when the blood contains a higher than usual amount of fat. We can’t use plasma that’s too fatty, so try to avoid fatty foods in the lead-up to your donation. Save the celebratory fried chicken for after!

For green plasma, it’s a bit trickier. Doctors think that in most cases, green plasma hints at a higher than usual amount of a copper-containing pigment called ceruloplasmin.  Ceruloplasmin itself is blue, but when mixed with the other yellow pigment in plasma — just like in painting — the blue and yellow make green. There are lots of things that can raise the level of ceruloplasmin, including some common medications.

However, high levels of ceruloplasmin don’t cause all cases of green plasma. It can also be caused by infection or by medical dyes used in diagnostic procedures that can remain in the blood and change its colour.

Want to see the exact hue of your plasma? The only way is to donate it!