How do I get iron in my blood quickly?
October 23, 2007 9:21 AM   Subscribe

How can I temporarily boost my blood iron levels for the next 24 hours?

I want to give blood tomorrow but in the past few years I always get rejected because my iron level is just a bit too low. What foods can I eat that will allow me to quickly absorb iron into my blood? I've read lists of high iron foods online but my sense is that absorption rates are just as important as how much iron the food actually has. I was thinking of making liver and onions for dinner. What else can I do to get some iron in my blood and keep it there until mid-day tomorrow?
posted by yarrow to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
Well I commend you for wanting to give blood (blood bank PR Manager here) but I'm not sure there is much you can do in the next 24 hours. Taking OTC iron pills will help. Also avoid drinking tea with your meals (a big problem down here in the south, where iced tea is a standard lunch refreshment).
posted by radioamy at 9:26 AM on October 23, 2007

How does tea impact iron absorption? And is tea with milk just as "bad"?
posted by at 9:41 AM on October 23, 2007

I have the same problem. Usually if I take iron once a day for a few days before donating, I'm good to go. Don't know if the day before will work. But you might try the (disgusting) liquid food-based iron from Whole Foods.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:42 AM on October 23, 2007

Vitamin C helps iron absorb better, and many iron supplements contain it.
posted by padraigin at 9:43 AM on October 23, 2007

We only absorb a very small amount of iron at a time, as I have found out being very iron deficient. Things you can do is take vit C. with iron, avoid caffeine and soy around the same time, and take with an empty stomach. And be prepared for constipation and/or nausea.

I am supposed to be taking 65mg (elemental iron)/3x daily, and I can only handle once a day or I feel really sick.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:44 AM on October 23, 2007

You know, Floradix is a great iron supplement that works really well for people who normally don't do so great with iron supplements.
posted by padraigin at 9:49 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Short of an intravenous iron infusion or a blood transfusion, not much. The gut absorption is probably just too slow to make a big impact in 24 hours, though obviously high iron foods, supplements, and vitamin C can't hurt in this regard so those are worth a shot. Don't take more than the recommended supplement dose though unless you particularly enjoy bad cases of constipation.
posted by drpynchon at 10:06 AM on October 23, 2007

Back when I was a professional blood donor, the folks there would advise me to eat a lot of raisins the night before.
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 10:24 AM on October 23, 2007

Click here for advice, including food, before, during and after the donation.

Don't they also check iron levels for the donor's safety? It is great that you want to give your blood, but should you really toy with iron deficiency?
posted by stereo at 10:31 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Stereo is right. If you have an iron deficiency, do not donate. Your body will have a tough time dealing with it.
posted by ydnagaj at 10:37 AM on October 23, 2007

I was anemic from iron deficiency and was given masses of iron, but my blood levels didn't go up for a couple of weeks. So I may be wrong, but I really doubt you can get your levels up that quickly. Also, anemia sucks and wiped me out for months, I would not risk it.
posted by whoaali at 10:41 AM on October 23, 2007

I usually make it a point to eat lots of mustard greens/turnip greens/kale--some kind of iron rich leafy green for dinner each evening a couple days before my donation appointment. As a result my hematocrit is wonderfully well above what I need for even a double red donation. This is the only thing that works for me. I have tried iron supplements for a week before donating and gotten tossed out for low iron. Luckily for me I adore all leafy greens and consider it a treat to eat lots of them.
posted by hecho de la basura at 10:42 AM on October 23, 2007

Thanks, everyone. I guess I should have planned ahead more, but my building's having a blood drive tomorrow and I just noticed the sign today.

I used to give blood every three months like clockwork when I lived in another state, and it never bothered me at all. My iron level is always just below the cutoff. (I wonder whether different blood donation setups have different cutoffs?) I've talked to my doctor about it and she says that my levels aren't medically worrisome.

I'll try the greens and liver and vitamin C and no tea route and see if it makes a difference. Giving blood is just such an easy, no-brainer thing to do that it's frustrating not to be able to help.
posted by yarrow at 11:04 AM on October 23, 2007, including that with milk, has caffeine which, according to Red Cross last time I donated, can effect your iron levels in the short term.
posted by internet!Hannah at 11:19 AM on October 23, 2007

Beans, beans, beans, spinach, beans.
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 AM on October 23, 2007

What they're actually measuring most of the time is your hemoglobin concentration. It's easy to artificially raise this by dehydrating yourself, and thus hemoconcentrating your blood. It'd obviously be a good idea to drink a lot of fluid after getting the pinprick iron test and before actually donating.
posted by trevyn at 11:25 AM on October 23, 2007

To respond to those who asked, for some reason consuming tea with meals inhibits the absorption of iron. It's not clear why.

And yes, they do check your iron before you donate. They also check your pulse, temperature and blood pressure. Most people who are deferred for low iron don't have anemia or other major health problems - their iron just isn't quite high enough to donate. FWIW, most women's iron levels drop when they are menstruating.
posted by radioamy at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2007

I too have been turned away (a few times during the beginning) for lower than required hematocrit (and yes, the ARC now measures Hb levels). It sucks and its annoying, but its for your own good.

I donate platelets on a bi-monthly basis, so its important that I keep up an iron-rich diet. I do this primarily by upping my spinach intake and consuming a little bit of red meat.

Please don't force your body to do abnormal things in a span of 24 hours. Instead, find an ARC office near you and sign up for a regular donation interval for RBC donation, if you are so inclined. This will give you enough time to get your levels into shape for dontation.
posted by Asherah at 12:51 PM on October 23, 2007

It won't help you in 24 hours, but I have found the supplement Hema-Plex to do wonders for my iron levels.
posted by schroedinger at 1:12 PM on October 23, 2007

If you don't have enough iron in your blood, then maybe that's an issue that ought to be of more concern than your immediate generous desire to give blood tomorrow. I mean, giving blood is a worthy sort of thing to do and all, but your health ought to be more important!
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:47 PM on October 23, 2007

So I went the liver and spinach route last night, had oatmeal for breakfast, and passed the hemo test with flying colors for the first time in ages. I'd like to infer a causal connection, but who knows. Thanks for all the helpful answers here.
posted by yarrow at 9:07 AM on October 24, 2007

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