The Blood Matters Blog ·

Blood Donation & Low Iron: What You Need to Know

Have questions about iron deficiency and blood donation? Let's explore all the important details surrounding iron levels, foods to eat and avoid, hemoglobin, and how you can save lives even if deferred.


Blood donation is a crucial act of altruism that saves countless lives every day. However, potential donors can face obstacles that prevent them from participating, and one common barrier is iron deficiency.

In this blog post, we delve into the connection between iron levels and blood donation, highlighting the importance of maintaining optimal iron levels for both donors and recipients.

Iron Deficiency and Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron is a vital mineral that plays a central role in the production of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. When iron levels are low, the body struggles to produce enough healthy red blood cells, leading to iron deficiency anemia. The most common form of anemia, iron deficiency anemia affects roughly 5 million people in the U.S., according to National Institutes of Health Data. About 10 million people in the U.S. are considered iron deficient.

Iron deficiency can result from various factors, including inadequate dietary intake of iron-rich foods, chronic blood loss (such as from heavy menstrual periods or gastrointestinal bleeding), pregnancy, and certain medical conditions that impair iron absorption.

Red Blood Cell Difference

Iron Deficiency Anemia Symptoms

Why Iron Levels Matter for Blood Donation

For blood donors, maintaining sufficient iron levels is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Donor Health: Donating blood can lead to a temporary decrease in iron levels, particularly in frequent donors. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and other symptoms that may affect the donor's well-being.

  2. Quality of Donated Blood: Iron-deficient blood may not meet the standards for donation. Blood banks carefully screen donated blood for various factors, including hemoglobin levels. Low hemoglobin levels can result in the rejection of donated blood or limit its usability for transfusions.

  3. Recipient Safety: Ensuring that donated blood meets quality standards is essential for the safety of transfusion recipients. Anemic blood may not deliver oxygen effectively, potentially compromising patient outcomes.

Tips for Maintaining Iron Levels

  1. Pair Iron-Rich Foods with Vitamin C: Pair iron-rich foods with sources of vitamin C, as it enhances iron absorption. Examples include citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and tomatoes.

  2. Avoid Iron Blockers: Certain substances can inhibit iron absorption. Limit consumption of coffee, tea, and calcium-rich foods around meal times, as they can interfere with iron uptake.

  3. Consider Supplements: If you have difficulty meeting your iron needs through diet alone, consult your healthcare provider about iron supplements. However, avoid self-prescribing supplements without medical guidance, as excessive iron intake can be harmful.

Types of Iron-rich Foods

Not Sure If You Can Donate?

If you think you're iron deficient or have ever been unable to donate because of low iron, you're not alone. The good news, though, is that most iron deficient blood donors are able to return to healthy hemoglobin levels by using the tips above.

Our phlebotomists also always check your hemoglobin levels before you give blood at Our Blood Institute, so if you're unsure, come donate and we'll let you know! You may just be able to save lives in the process.

Schedule to Donate

So You've Been Deferred for Low Iron

If you can't donate, that's OK! There are so many amazing ways to give back – here are two wonderful options worth considering right here at OBI.

Support Our International Aid Work

Through our charity, Global Blood Fund, you can support the donations of lifesaving medical equipment, programs focused on blood safety and community awareness, and more. Text "blood" to 52000 for a $5 Global Blood Fund contribution or make a one-time or recurring donation and you'll be making a difference across the globe.

Make a Donation

Join the BioLinked Registry

By participating in research opportunities through BioLinked, OBI donors have contributed to medical advancements related to cancer, arthritis, ebola, and more. To see a list of current opportunities and the reimbursements tied to each, visit our BioLinked page and consider signing up!

BioLinked's Current Opportunities