Blood donation can lead to iron deficiency

Blood donation can lead to iron deficiency

By Dr. Molly Brass, ND
Licensed Naturopathic Doctor

08 Feb 2019

Blood donation can lead to iron deficiency

Most of our body’s supply of iron is found in our blood, so when we donate blood we lose iron. Our bone marrow replaces this blood using the iron stored in our liver.

A single donation takes approximately 10% of our blood. The iron lost is equivalent to an average female’s entire supply of stored iron and a quarter of a man’s iron supply (1). If we don’t replenish our iron stores before donating again we will become iron deficient. Iron deficiency symptoms include fatigue, restless leg syndrome, bruising, hair loss, and impaired concentration.

Before giving blood, a potential donor has a finger prick test for hemoglobin: the iron-containing protein that carries oxygen to tissues. A normal hemoglobin reading allows the donation to proceed. However, a hemoglobin test doesn’t reflect iron stores as accurately as testing ferritin, the major iron storage protein in the body. In a recent study of 12,000 Canadian donors, ferritin testing revealed 65% of repeat female donors and 42% of repeat male donors had low iron stores (2).

Iron supplementation can replenish iron stores more quickly than an iron-rich diet alone. If you donate blood, inform your doctor so that your iron levels can be monitored.

Blood donors with a higher risk of iron deficiency include:
– people following a vegan or vegetarian diet
– women with heavy or prolonged menstruation
– individuals with impaired absorption (e.g. celiac disease, past gastric bypass surgery)
– people on long-term proton pump inhibitor therapy

Mast AE. Putting donor health first in strategies to mitigate donor iron deficiency. Transfusion. 2017 Mar;57(3):495-498.
Goldman M, Uzicanin S, Osmond L, Scalia V, O’Brien S. A large national study of ferritin testing in Canadian blood donors. Transfusion. 2017 Mar;57(3):564-570.

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