Vampires: The Neverending Hunger for Blood, Explained!

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By: Skylar Black

How Do Vampires Feed?

Pop culture has been fascinated with vampires for decades – even before Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, the bloodsucking creatures of the night have dominated literature, film, television, and countless other media types for what feels like an eternity.

One of the most intriguing things about the vampire that makes them such a media magnet is their need for human blood – sustaining themselves on our life force makes vampires inherently dangerous, but their hypnotic abilities draw us towards them.

With that in mind, one question remains – how do vampires feed on our most precious resource?

Why Blood?

Blood might seem like a strange thing to choose as sustenance – in humans, blood is about 78% water, and it contains none of the vitamins or nutrients that we store in other body tissues. 

Dried blood is roughly 93% protein, making it suitable for a carnivorous diet, but it’s not exactly the most nutritious part of our bodies. So why is it the drink of choice for vampires?

The literary symbolism of drinking blood seems a likely culprit for this – vampires are designed as monsters, and violating cultural taboos makes them seem alien and predatory to readers. 

Sustaining themselves in a cannibalistic manner makes them a direct predator to humans – what’s scarier than being trapped with something that wants to eat you?

Interestingly, literary scholars believe that Bram Stoker specifically added references to transubstantiation into Dracula in relation to drinking blood – the process of turning someone into a vampire is written as a sort of bastardized Catholic communion, where the body and blood of Christ are replaced with those of Dracula. 

This speaks to a more spiritual interpretation of blood-drinking – blood as a symbol of life, rather than physical sustenance.

According to some legends, vampires don’t digest blood – in fact, they lack a functioning digestive system. Rather, the life force that runs through us as blood is transferred directly into their bloodstream. 

The choice of blood as sustenance makes sense – they’re not seeking nutrients, but the essential essence of life.

Feeding Habits of Vampires

According to Dracula and Interview with the Vampire, most vampires don’t need to feed every night; once every few days seems to have been Dracula’s schedule. 

Most vampires only take a small amount of blood from their victims at a time – this can result in the victim surviving a feeding relatively unharmed, or taking much longer to die than we usually see in movies.

Dracula’s victims, according to Bram Stoker, would usually succumb eventually. He appeared to enjoy feeding on the same victim repeatedly until he had drained them of every drop of their life force. 

A longstanding debate amongst folklorists is whether vampires can survive on blood from any mammal, or whether they require the life force of a human victim. 

European vampire myths usually depict vampires as feeding on animals – mostly cattle and other herd animals in rural regions. Vampires have been blamed for lost or mutilated herd animals for hundreds of years. 

In more urban legends, vampires have been known to attack domestic pets such as dogs, and even rats that occupy the streets of major cities.

In other legends, such as Dracula, vampires limit themselves entirely to human victims or at least express a preference for human blood. 

Some believe that human blood is richer in whatever energy that vampires are sustained by, and the clear parallels to Catholic transubstantiation in Dracula suggest that vampires can only drink human blood because, according to traditional Catholic doctrine, humans are the only creatures that possess a soul. 

Real Vampires

While they might not be immortal supernatural parasites, human vampires do exist. 

People who claim to sustain themselves on human blood are more common than you might think, though the benefits to this somewhat gruesome dietary choice are slim.

Humans who regularly consume blood fall into two categories – “practicing vampires”, who use blood for its supposed medicinal properties, and blood fetishists, who get a sexual thrill from seeing, smelling, touching, and consuming blood.

For medical vampires, blood is a supplement that’s rich in iron and protein, and they use it to treat conditions like anemia (an iron deficiency). For these vamps, it can be all business, with no pleasure involved. 

However, the act of drinking blood can make some medical vampires feel physically better, whether it has actual health benefits or not.

For blood fetishists, consuming blood is all pleasure. They’ve often linked their sexuality to a vampiric identity, and are known to “feed” while engaging in sexual acts. 

The blood is an essential component of their sexual drive, and some can’t engage in any sort of sexual activity without it.

While both of these human versions of vampirism are personal choices, there is another category – those who are driven to drink blood by some form of mental illness. 

Conditions such as dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia have been associated with “clinical vampirism”, sometimes referred to as Renfield syndrome (in reference to a character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula)

Clinical vampirism is characterized as an obsession with drinking blood or a compulsion to do so. 

One of the most famous cases is that of serial killer Richard Chase, who earned himself the nickname of “The Vampire of Sacramento” because he was known to have drunk the blood of five of his six known victims. 

Chase was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was plagued by a delusion that his blood was drying up, and he needed to replace it with the blood of animals and eventually, other humans.

While an urge to drink blood may stem from mental illness, that doesn’t mean that all “clinical vampires” want to be cured of their bloodthirst. 

According to a project called the Vampirism and Energy Work Research Study conducted by the Atlanta Vampire Alliance, only 8% of their respondents stated that they would want to cure themselves of their condition.

Can Humans Survive On Blood?

In short, no. 

Human blood doesn’t contain very many essential nutrients, minerals, or vitamins – the only components that might be useful are the protein and iron that it contains. 

Thus, a human attempting to survive on blood alone would likely die from malnutrition – that is, if they managed to avoid the other nasty consequences of drinking blood.

The main concern for blood drinkers is the possibility of developing hemochromatosis – this condition is caused by getting too much iron, causing it to build up in your bloodstream. 

If left untreated, this condition is fatal, making it a serious threat to any humans who want to try the world’s most gothic diet fad.

Additionally, humans can pass on a whole host of terrible infectious diseases through their blood. Hepatitis, Ebola, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS are all spread through contact with infected blood, and can easily plague a careless vampire. 

Regular blood drinkers must be incredibly careful about who their donors are in order to avoid contracting these diseases.

References:

Articles
Murderpedia: Richard Trenton Chase
Particle - Is It Really Bad To Drink Blood?
Catholic Answers: Transubstantiation for Beginners
Gods and Monsters: Vampire Feeding
The Vampire Project - Feeding Habits of Vampires
Atlanta Vampire Alliance 
Atlanta Vampire Alliance - Vampirism and Energy Work Research Study


Podcasts
Ologies - Hematology (Blood) with Brian Durie
Redhanded - Episode 135 - The Vampire King: Marcus Wesson
Redhanded - Episode 69 - The Vampire of Bucharest
Redhanded - Episode 35 - Richard Chase: The Vampire of Sacramento Part 1
Morbid - Episode 194: Tony Costa, The Cape Cod Vampire Part 1
Morbid - Episode 51: Countess Elizabeth Bathory
Morbid - Episode 17: Rod Ferrell “The Vampire Cult Killer” 
Sawbones: Medical Cannibalism
Sawbones: Aah, Real Monsters!
Sawbones: Hemophilia
Lore - Remastered - Episode 1: They Made a Tonic
Astonishing Legends - Blood Báthory Part 1


Books
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice 
In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires by Raymond T. McNally and Radu R. Florescu 
The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead by J. Gordon Melton
Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend by Mark Collins Jenkins
The Science of Vampires by Katherine Ramsland
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