Here’s what you need to know about iron.

I was deferred today because of low blood count. Why couldn’t I donate?

We’re sorry you had a “low” blood count today, and weren’t able to donate.

We care about your health, so we check the blood hematocrit level of everyone who comes in. Hematocrit is the percentage of red blood cells in your blood. For men, a normal hematocrit is in the range of 39-51%; for women, 36-45%. Your test result today was below the minimum level for donating blood.

Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. When you make a donation, it removes red blood cells and iron from your body. We always make sure you have enough red blood cells to donate safely.

Don’t worry—low blood count is usually temporary, and you’ll likely be able to donate again soon. On an average day, about one-in-ten donors is deferred because of a low hematocrit.

What causes a low blood count?

In most cases, a low hematocrit is caused by insufficient iron in the body. If you are in good health but have a low hematocrit, you may need to increase the amount of iron-rich food in your diet. Suggested foods and recipes are included below and in the sidebar of this page. Today’s diets tend to be lighter, with less iron-rich foods like as red meat.

What should I do if my count is low?

Making sure you have a normal hematocrit is very important to your good health. In some cases, a person whose blood count is chronically low may have anemia, which means a blood count lower than the normal range.

Here’s what we recommend if you were deferred from donating today:

You are a first time or occasional donor: If you are a man or a woman (non-menstruating), you should visit your healthcare provider about your hematocrit before trying to donate again.

You are a menstruating woman: You should take steps to increase iron levels in your body. Iron supplements may also be helpful. If the supplements do not help in a short period of time (several weeks), a visit to your healthcare provider is encouraged.

You are a frequent blood donor (3 or more times a year for men; 2 or more times a year for women): we appreciate your dedication as a donor. Frequent donation can sometimes result in reduced iron stores. You can find helpful tips to increase your iron stores on the reverse side of this form.

As a regular or frequent blood donor, what do I need to know about iron?

For some people, frequent donation (three or more times a year for men; two or more times a year for women) can sometimes result in reduced iron stores. We strongly urge regular and frequent donors to consider extra measures to rebuild your iron stores after every whole blood or red cell donation.

As a young donor, what do I need to know about iron?

Recent studies involving young donors indicate that keeping iron “stores” adequate – so that your body can quickly replace your red blood cells after a donation — can be a challenge. We want to keep you from ever experiencing depleted iron stores. Fortunately, your diet is the first resource for keeping iron stores in balance. For more information about maintaining healthy iron level, including dietary suggestions please review this handout.

In addition to a healthy diet, iron supplements or vitamins containing iron are strongly recommended. They are safe, can be taken daily to keep your iron stores in balance.

Iron supplements are widely available in many forms over-the-counter at drug stores or pharmacies. Iron is included in many multi-vitamins too. Additionally, Bloodworks Northwest has iron supplements available for you free-of-charge at all of our donation centers for pick up. Parents/Guardians can also complete the online request form below to have iron supplements mailed to your home.

As you should with any medicine or supplement, please read the label carefully. People with a family history of hemochromatosis or symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease should not take iron supplements. Your healthcare provider can tell you if iron supplements are right for you.

    As you should with any medicine or supplement, please read the label carefully. People with a family history of hemochromatosis or symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease should not take iron supplements. Your healthcare provider can tell you if iron supplements are right for you.

Why is iron important?

Iron: Your body—and everybody—needs it! Iron is an essential mineral that helps move oxygen to all the organs and tissues in your body, and helps turn food into energy. Your good health depends on iron, just like we depend on you as a blood donor.

What foods will help boost my iron level?

The best way to boost your iron level is to eat a healthy diet with plenty of iron-rich foods. These include beans, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, root vegetables, dried fruits, enriched and whole grain breads, lean red meats, shellfish, whole grains, and eggs. Maintain healthy iron levels by eating regular, nutritionally balanced meals, and drink plenty of fluids.

What is the recommended daily amount of iron?

Low iron levels can be quite common, especially for women, whose bodies naturally require more iron. The recommended daily amount of iron for women is 18 milligrams, and for men is 10 milligrams. Many food labels list iron levels for the food inside the package.

Some tips to increase your iron level:

  • Iron supplements may help replace lost iron and may be taken daily. Iron tablets (like all supplements and medicine) should be used with guidance from your health care provider, and be stored out of reach of children (Iron supplements are not recommended if you are known to have Hemochromatosis or Crohn’s disease).
  • Having vitamin C along with iron increases your body’s absorption of iron (orange juice, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries).
  • Meats have the highest iron content, so vegetarians have to work harder to get enough iron, but still have lots of good dietary choices.
  • Even cooking in an iron skillet adds iron to whatever you are making. (true!)

Some foods and beverages may decrease iron absorption, including caffeine (coffee, tea, colas) as well as some antacid medications.

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