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Blood Donor Counselling: Implementation Guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2014.

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Blood Donor Counselling: Implementation Guidelines.

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Annex 1Haemoglobin and iron: information for blood donors

Every time you come to give blood or platelets we check your haemoglobin level. Haemoglobin (Hb) is a protein found in the red blood cells that carries oxygen in your body and gives blood its red colour. Haemoglobin levels vary from person to person. Men usually have higher levels than women. A haemoglobin “cut-off” level is set for blood donation to ensure that your haemoglobin will not drop below normal after you have donated blood. Normal ranges for haemoglobin differ between ethnic populations, and males and females, and are also affected by age, especially in women. Individuals with haemoglobin levels below the normal range are, by definition, anaemic. There are many causes of anaemia and anaemia due to iron deficiency is common.

What happens next?

If your haemoglobin level is less than the cut-off value, you will not be able to donate blood until the time you have further tests to know the reason for your low haemoglobin, receive treatment for the condition and have a normal haemoglobin value above the cut-off level. We want you to come back as soon as possible to donate blood, but your health comes first. So it's important to wait a while to allow your haemoglobin to reach the normal level. We hope that next time you come to give blood your haemoglobin will be above the cut-off level and that you will not be disappointed again.

More about iron

Iron is very important because it helps your body to make haemoglobin. You give away iron when you donate blood and so it is even more necessary for blood donors to eat plenty of iron-containing foods.

Where does iron come from?

As iron is found in a variety of foods, you can usually get enough from a balanced diet. The major sources of iron are meat and meat-based foods, cereals and cereal products, and vegetables.

What can I do to boost my iron levels?

Iron is not easily absorbed by the body so we all need a regular supply of it. Try to eat a well-balanced diet. Also, every day, try to eat three portions of food that are good sources of iron. Reducing the amount of snacks and sugary foods which contain very little iron will also help.

These foods are good sources of iron:

  • Pulses and beans
  • Eggs
  • Breakfast cereals – some cereals are fortified with iron
  • Lean red meat, turkey and chicken
  • Fish – including frozen and canned fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and pilchards
  • Nuts
  • Brown rice
  • Tofu
  • Bread – especially whole meal or brown breads
  • Leafy green vegetables – especially spinach curly kale, watercress and broccoli
  • Dried fruit – in particular apricots, raisins and prunes.

The amount of animal fat in your diet should be kept low. So when eating meat, try to choose lean meat. It is also better to grill, steam, roast or microwave food rather than fry it. A note about tea: tea may reduce the absorption of iron from foods. Avoid drinking tea just before, after or with meals.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) helps you to absorb more iron. So to get the most from the food you eat, have vitamin C rich foods with meals: for example, fresh fruits and vegetables or drinks such as fresh orange juice.

What if I am a vegetarian or vegan?

Although iron from non-meat sources is more difficult for the body to absorb, people following a well-balanced diet should be able to get enough iron in their diet.

Do I need to take iron tablets?

Most people should be able to get all the iron they need by eating a varied and balanced diet and should not need to take iron supplements or tablets. Iron tablets should only be taken if your doctor has advised you to take them.

Copyright © World Health Organization 2014.

All rights reserved. Publications of the World Health Organization are available on the WHO web site (www.who.int) or can be purchased from WHO Press, World Health Organization, 20 Avenue Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland (tel.: +41 22 791 3264; fax: +41 22 791 4857; e-mail: tni.ohw@sredrokoob).

Requests for permission to reproduce or translate WHO publications –whether for sale or for non-commercial distribution– should be addressed to WHO Press through the WHO web site (www.who.int/about/licensing/copyright_form/en/index.html).

Bookshelf ID: NBK310577

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