Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Donating Blood Diminishes Iron Levels

Photo by MattysFlicks.
Donate Blood.

Give the Gift of Life.

In early September of this year, my annual exam declared me anemic.

Blood tests revealed that my hemoglobin was only 11.4 g/dl when 12.1 g/dl to 15.1 g/dl is ideal for women 18 and up.

I was really worried about my low iron levels, because I was eating more protein than I did as a young adult.

Then I found out that blood donors are at higher risk for anemia. And I had donated blood on July 9th.

Here's a related statement from the NIH page "Dietary Supplements Fact Sheet: Iron":

"Frequent blood donors have an increased risk of iron deficiency. In the United States, adults may donate blood as often as every 8 weeks, which can deplete iron stores.  About 25%-35% of regular blood donors develop iron deficiency."


"In a study of 2,425 blood donors, men who had given at least three and women who had given at least two whole-blood donations in the previous year were more than five times as likely to have depleted stores as first-time donors."

"A clinical trial of iron supplementation found that of 215 adults who had donated a unit of blood within the past 3-8 days, those randomized to take an iron supplement (37.5 mg/day elemental iron from ferrous gluconate) for 24 weeks recovered their lost hemoglobin and iron in less than half the time of those not given the supplement."

"Without iron supplementation, two-thirds of the donors had not recovered the iron they lost, even after 24 weeks."  [Note: Quoted original text modified for additional paragraph breaks and to remove footnote numbers.]

How long does it take to increase iron levels? 

The time frame for rebuilding iron levels varies from person to person. If an individual does not have a complicating factor or deep deficiencies, a good rule of thumb is 3 to 4 weeks. Here is a statement from the Iron Disorders Institute:

"Functional iron deficiency (moderately low iron reserves in ferritin with normal hemoglobin) can be corrected with oral iron (pills) when the cause is insufficient daily intake of iron from the diet. Iron pills, even low-dose pills, will replenish stores very soon, generally within 3-4 weeks."

Since learning in September that I was anemic, I've decided to do three things:

1. Take a daily multivitamin with iron.

2. Keep a food journal, tracking the RDA percentage of iron in my diet so that I am more diligent about eating iron-rich foods.

3. Wait at least 4 months between blood donations. I barely meet the weight eligibility (by a mere two pounds), so the standard donation represents a higher percentage of my blood.

I actually tried to donate blood two weeks after testing as anemic because I was eating more than the RDA of iron since my hemoglobin test came back low. However, I learned that my levels came up just slightly in those two weeks--11.4 to 11.8.   That deferment in mid-September led me to start taking a daily multivitamin with iron.

I will wait until mid-November before trying again.  That's 2 months after my last iron level check and 4 months since my last donation.  If I'm still anemic in November after months of improving my diet and taking a daily iron supplement, I will probably call my general practitioner for advice.

Related. 

Nutrition for Our Age

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