By Chris Gonzalez, M.D., Assistant Medical Director, Stanford Blood Center
Eating a healthy diet is important for anyone, especially blood donors. But we want to make sure blood donors know that diet alone may not replace all the iron lost from blood donation.
Taking iron supplements, however, can help replace this iron. Because we care about the health of our donors, we have compiled new materials to help answer questions about iron supplements.
Since red blood cells (RBCs) contain iron, blood donation reduces the amount of iron in your body. Even platelet and plasma donors lose some RBC (and iron). This loss of iron is important, because your body needs iron — from either preexisting iron stores in your body, or iron in the food you eat — to make new RBCs. If your iron level gets too low to produce new RBCs, you will become anemic.
There are many different types of iron supplements. Although eating a well-balanced, iron-rich diet is still helpful, current guidelines suggest that to replace the iron lost after donating one unit of RBC, taking one multivitamin with iron (about 19 mg of iron) each day for 3 months, or one iron caplet (about 45 mg of iron) each day for 6 weeks, will help. Platelet and plasma donors should consider taking one of these supplements each day for 2-3 weeks after each donation.
Please note, however, that taking larger doses can be harmful, so it is important to follow the recommended dosage. Generally, people can only absorb 2-4 mg of iron per day.
Beginning September 12, we’ll be handing donors our updated post-donation brochure after they donate, which will include information about iron supplements. For more information, you can also visit our web page on iron supplementation.
Please feel free to send your comments and questions about blood donation and iron to Dr. Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org.