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Blood haemoglobin level and iron supplementation

What is haemoglobin (Hb)?
Haemoglobin is a constituent of red blood cells, helping to transport oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. The ability of haemoglobin to carry oxygen is based on the iron present in the haemoglobin molecule. The haemoglobin level in human blood is very individual.

What is iron needed for?
Iron is a basic component of body tissues. In addition to the haemoglobin of red cells, iron has important functions in muscles and in enzymes which regulate bodily processes. Iron is stored in the bone marrow and liver. There are great individual differences in the size of iron stores, and men have about threefold larger iron stores than women.

What are the consequences of iron deficiency?
A mild degree of iron deficiency which is not reflected in blood haemoglobin level can still cause symptoms (ex. tiredness and reduced performance). Iron deficiency also predisposes the body to infection and inflammation.

How to get enough iron?
A healthy person gets enough iron from a varied, balanced diet. Foods containing liver, meat, blood, lentils, soybeans, edible seaweed, rye and oat bran are rich in iron. Iron absorption can be improved by eating vitamin C-containing food products (e.g. citrus fruits or fruit juices).

Blood donors may need more iron
The iron lost when donating blood is replaced by iron from the diet within about five months. However, frequent blood donation may leave too little time for the iron loss to be made up for by iron intake from food. This is particularly true for women in fertile age. The Blood Service provides iron supplementation for donors in high risk of developing iron deficiency. The iron supplementation is aimed at preventing iron deficiency and any ensuing fall in blood haemoglobin level caused by blood donation.

Can you get too much iron?
The iron supplementation offered by the Blood Service is safe for healthy donors. Of importance is however, that iron affects the absorption of many medicinal products. Donors should take into account to keep a 2 hours time interval between taking any medicines and the iron capsules.  Iron supplementation may cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

How to use the iron capsules given to you after blood donation?
Take 1 capsule once a day with a meal.  Foodstuffs rich in vitamin C help the absorption of iron; milk products prevent it. If you forget to take your iron capsule on one or more days it is still of benefit to complete your course fully.