Donor Health: What does iron have to do with it?
The blood you give us contains iron. Iron is the “fuel” that helps your red cells carry oxygen to the tissues. Most donors replace the iron lost during donation by using iron already stored in their bodies. If your iron stores are low before you donate, or if you give blood frequently, you may become iron deficient and need to do more to replace the lost iron.
Low iron is very common in the U.S., even before people begin to donate. But blood donation can contribute to low iron. A low hematocrit reading, the test we do when we stick your finger during the screening process, happens late in iron deficiency, so you can have iron deficiency and still have a normal hematocrit level.
Health problems from low iron levels before the hematocrit falls are rare.
The most reliable way to prevent low iron is to take an iron pill or multivitamin containing iron (read the label) to replace what was removed when you donated. They are available over the counter and are much faster and more reliable than trying to do it with a high-iron diet.
Taking 18-38 mg of iron once daily for eight weeks replaces the iron lost in a whole blood donation. This amount has no more side effects than a sugar pill.
The second way to prevent low iron is by donating less frequently, but that will make maintaining the blood supply more difficult.
If you are a frequent donor or want to be one, taking iron pills or multivitamins with iron is highly encouraged following blood donation. Refueling your body with iron prepares you for the next donation, which supports the patients who depend on the availability of blood.
Donors most likely to become iron deficient are:
Those during periods of rapid growth
Currently, donors wait 56 days between their whole blood donations. However, our youngest of donors will follow the new guidelines below:
16-18-year-old males — 84 days between whole blood donations
16-18-year-old females — 112 days between whole blood donations.
Donors with hematocrit levels near or below the minimum required for blood donation
If you are a frequent donor or are at risk for having low stores of iron, taking an iron supplement is highly recommended. Talk to your health care provider to decide if iron is best for your health.