Blood Donor? Check Your Iron Levels

Blood donors may benefit from iron supplements to help boost hemoglobin levels and recovery time

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Giving blood can be a selfless act that can save lives, but it may also affect the donor's health if it's done too frequently.

A new study found that frequent blood donors might benefit from iron supplements to recoup what's lost in the donation process. Some regular donors' bodies might not be ready to donate as often as allowed in the US, this study found.

According to the authors of this new study, led by Joseph E. Kiss, MD, of the Institute for Transfusion Medicine in Pittsburgh, regular blood donation is allowed every eight weeks in the US. However, this can sometimes lead to low levels of hemoglobin — a protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells. These researchers called for more thought and research on blood donation policies.

"An important policy consideration raised by our findings concerns the 8-week minimum required interdonation interval in the United States and Canada, which is shorter than that allowed in many countries," Dr. Kiss and team wrote.

Low hemoglobin levels have been tied to low levels of iron in the body. This can lead to issues like fatigue, restless leg syndrome, and problems with thinking and memory, Dr. Kiss and team found.

Dr. Kiss and colleagues set out to see whether iron supplements helped hemoglobin and iron levels recover after blood donation.

To do so, they looked at 215 adult blood donors at four US blood centers in 2012. The patients had all donated blood in the past but not within the past four months.

These researchers then measured the patients' iron and hemoglobin levels before and after blood donation. Some (111) received an oral iron supplement daily for 24 weeks. The remaining 104 did not use any iron supplements.

Both groups of patients had similar iron and hemoglobin levels when this study began.

Among the patients using supplements, it took an average of 76 days to return to normal iron levels. Among patients who were not using the supplements, most (67 percent) did not completely recover to normal iron levels during the 24 weeks of the study (168 days).

Dr. Kiss and team also wanted to see when the patients' hemoglobin levels returned to at least 80 percent of their normal levels. Iron supplementation also seemed to help hemoglobin recover — in patients with either high or low iron levels at the study's start.

Patients with low iron levels at the study's start recovered their hemoglobin after an average of 32 days with supplementation and 158 days without supplementation.

Dr. Kiss and colleagues noted that while they did see only a small overall decrease in hemoglobin levels after blood donation, many people donate blood repeatedly.

This study involved a fairly small number of patients, and more research is needed to better understand recovery after blood donation, Dr. Kiss and team said.

This study was published online Feb. 10 in JAMA.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute funded this research. One of the study authors had ties to the pharmaceutical companies Novo Nordisk and Siemens.

Review Date: 
February 9, 2015
Last Updated:
February 10, 2015