Iron and Blood Donation
We care about your health and want you to know that donating blood reduces the amount of iron in your body. Taking iron supplements can help you replace this iron.
- How does blood donation affect my iron levels? »
- Why is the iron loss important? »
- Does the blood center test for low iron stores in my body? »
- How would low iron stores affect me? »
- What can I do to replace the iron I lose through my donation? »
- What type of iron supplement should I take? »
- Would larger doses replace my iron faster? »
- Where can I get additional information? »
Red blood cells (RBCs) contain iron and therefore blood donation removes some iron from your body. All blood donors, even platelet and plasma donors, lose some RBCs (and iron) with their donations.
Your body needs iron to make new RBCs. This iron comes from either preexisting iron stores in your body or iron in the food you eat. Many menstruating women may not have enough iron stored in their body to make RBCs to replace their donation. Men have more iron stores; however, with frequent donation, thier iron stores can get depleted too.
No, the blood center tests your hemoglobin, a measure of your RBC level, but not your iron stores. You may have enough hemoglobin to donate blood even though your body’s iron stores are low.
If your iron level gets too low, your body will not be able to make new RBCs, and you will become anemic. Most people with low iron stores have no symptoms; however, some may have fatigue, decreased exercise capacity, and pica (a craving to chew things such as ice or chalk).
Eating a well-balanced iron rich diet is helpful; however, diet alone may notreplace all the iron lost from blood donation. Taking multivitamins with iron or iron supplements may help replace the iron lost.
There are many different types of iron supplements. If you take one multivitamin with iron (about 19 mg iron) each day for 3 months, or one iron caplet (about 45 mg iron) each day for 6 weeks, you will likely replace the amount of iron lost in one unit of donated RBCs. Platelet and plasma donors should consider taking one of these supplements each day for 2-3 weeks after each donation.
Do not take more than the recommended dosage because higher doses can be harmful. Generally, people can only absorb 2-4 mg of iron per day. Therefore, taking larger iron doses for shorter periods may not lead to better absorption and may result in more side effects. The overall goal is to replace, over time, the 200 mg of iron lost during a red cell donation or 50 mg iron lost with a platelet or plasma donation. Your physician or pharmacist may be able to assist you in deciding what dose, type, and duration of iron supplement to choose. Iron-containing supplements should be properly stored to prevent accidental ingestion by babies and children.
- National Institutes of Heatlh: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron
- National Institutes of Health: Medline: Information about Iron Supplements
- National Institutes of Health: Medline: Taking Iron Supplements
- Mayo Clinic: Iron Supplements
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC) - Nutrition for Everyone: Iron and Iron Deficiency