Donating blood reduces the amount of iron in your body. Taking iron supplements can help you replace this iron. 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).
Why is the iron loss important?
Your body needs iron to make new RBCs. Many menstruating women may not have enough iron stored in their body to make RBCs to replace their donation and other blood loss. Men have more iron stores; however, with frequent donation, their iron stores can get depleted too. Recent studies have suggested that the effects of frank iron deficiency may be more significant that previously recognized. Adverse effects associated with iron deficiency include cognitive dysfunction, fatigue, pregnancy-related complications, decreased exercise endurance, pica (the desire to compulsively ingest non-food substances such as ice or clay) and the less clearly associated restless legs syndrome. The adverse effects of non-anemic iron deficiency (NAID), the status of most iron-deficient blood donors, are more suggestive than definitive, but a growing body of literature indicates that NAID may impair quality of life.
Does the blood center test for low iron stores in my body?
No, the blood center tests your hematocrit, a measure of your RBC level, but not your iron stores directly. You may have enough hematocrit to donate blood even if your body’s iron stores are low.
What can I do to replace the iron I lose through donating?
Eating a well-balanced iron-rich diet is helpful; however, diet alone may not replace all the iron lost from blood donation. Taking multivitamins with iron or iron supplements may help replace the iron lost.
What type of iron supplementation should I take?
There are many different types of iron supplements. Frequent blood donors including whole blood, red cell, platelet and plasma donors should consider taking a daily multivitamin containing iron (usually about 19 mg of elemental iron) or another type of daily iron supplement between donations. Infrequent blood donors should consider daily iron supplementation for at least 60 days following donation. You should check with a physician or pharmacist familiar with your health history before taking any new dietary supplements. Iron supplements may affect the absorption of other medications, and may be not be recommended for everyone, including people with a history of iron absorption abnormalities or significant risk factors for or history of colorectal cancer.
Would larger doses replace my iron faster?
Do not take more than the recommended dosage because higher doses can be harmful. Generally, people can only absorb 2-4 mg if iron per day. Thus, 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 help you choose the right dose, type, and duration of iron supplement. Store iron-containing supplements properly to prevent accidental ingestion by babies and children.
Click here for the USDA Nutrient List for Iron.