Six thousand (6000) blood donations are needed in the UK every day to service the 2.1 million transfusions per year. These transfusions are critical in saving people’s lives. Haemoglobin and iron stores are a key factor in our blood and dictate a person’s eligibility to give blood.

In an average blood donation, 220-250mg of iron is lost. This can leave a donor feeling sluggish and tired, but also with the risk of iron deficiency or anaemia. According to a study funded by The National Institutes of Health, 25-35% of blood donors develop iron deficiency.

Blood donors have an increased need for iron recommends that these donors get 18mg/d of iron for 6 months after giving blood.

For women, the daily requirement could be up to 30 mg/d because of the blood lost through their menstrual cycle. It is very important for these women to be conscious of their daily iron intake.

be conscious of daily iron intake

However, men aren’t safe from these iron inadequacies either. According to Mens Health magazine, males that donate three or more times per year develop iron deficiency.

Many studies say that simply eating iron rich foods is not enough to restore iron levels, but that iron supplementation is also needed. Joseph Kiss, Medical Director at The Institute for Transfusion Medicine says that, “supplemental iron effectively restores haemoglobin, even in donors with high iron levels.”

A study in the American Journal of Medical Association says, those that took iron supplements recovered faster after blood donation. Recovery was 5 weeks versus 23 weeks in the low iron group and 4 weeks versus 11 weeks in the high iron group.

There are many reasons why iron supplementation is needed and food isn’t sufficient enough to restore iron levels. Firstly, there is a difference in the iron that we absorb from our food. Heme iron is found in animal sources such as red meat, poultry and fish. This is absorbed at around 20-30% of the total iron in the meal. Non-heme iron is found in dairy, eggs, seeds, nuts and vegetables and is absorbed at a lower rate of 5-12%.

Other obstacles to iron absorption can come from healthy foods. Polyphenols, phytates and calcium which can be found in tea, coffee, seeds, nuts, dairy, and legumes can also inhibit your iron absorption. In reality, this tells us that drinking tea after your steak dinner can inhibit your iron absorption.

You might be left disappointed when the blood clinic is turning you away, despite their diminishing blood donations. This is coupled with the new haemoglobin threshold of 13.5 g/dl for men and 12.5 g/dl for women, making it more important for donors to look after their iron levels.

Simone Glynn, Chief of the Blood Epidemiology and Clinical Therapeutics Branch says “maintaining healthy iron levels will allow donors to safely continue donating blood, thereby ensuring a robust blood supply for patients in need.

5 tips if you’re afraid to give blood

Giving blood is nothing to be afraid of. You’re in the hands of trained professionals who have done this thousands (if not millions) of times. If you really want to donate, but you’re shaking just thinking about it (ugh needles!), consider these top five ten tips:

1. Bring a pal

Bring a friend with you – the more the merrier. It’s great to have a hand to squeeze or someone to chat to for a distraction. If you can convince them to donate blood too – it’s a bonus! Why not make a new tradition with you best pal and give blood together?

2. Breathe

Practice slow and steady breathing before you go to give blood, and while you’re in the hot-seat too. Breathing slowly will calm your nerves help you relax. See? Easy as breathing in and out!

3. Eat well and hydrate

Make sure you eat well and hydrate properly before and after giving blood. This will help make sure you don’t feel like fainting. It’s important to eat a healthy and balanced diet, if you are finding that you can’t fulfil your needs through diet alone you can try supplementing. Iron is important for the formation of haemoglobin and Red Blood Cells and for the transport of oxygen in the body. .

4. Wear comfortable clothes

Wear sleeves that are easy pushed up so there’s no additional pressure on your arm (or anywhere else!)

5. Share it!

Share you experience with family, on the group-chat, or on social media to distract yourself. You’ll be especially happy that you did if it encourages someone else to donate.