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The National Institute of Health funded a study of blood donors in an effort to determine the efficacy of adding low dose iron supplements after a donation. Giving blood is a selfless and important form of volunteerism in its purest form: the blood will go to an unknown person in most cases. The dedicated blood donor is allowed to give one pint of blood every eight weeks. The eight weeks is expected to be adequate time to restore the level of hemoglobin in the donor’s blood. Hemoglobin is a protein molecule present in red blood cells that has the vital task of carrying oxygen inhaled through the lungs to the body tissue.
A lowered hemoglobin can lead to anemia, with symptoms such as fatigue, a pale appearance, a racing heart, shortness of breath and worsening heart problems for various conditions. Blood donors should be alert to the symptoms and take iron supplements. The study confirmed that 25 to 35% of blood donors develop an iron deficiency, making them potentially ineligible for future donations – bad news for organizations like the Red Cross which is in constant need of donations from willing public. Maintaining adequate supplies of all types of blood is critical for lifesaving actions, and severely injured persons may require many pints of blood to be administered to stay alive.
The trial to determine whether donors would recover more quickly ran from April to December in 2012 at four different blood donation centers, and evaluated 215 blood donors ages 18 and above. The study revealed that those who took one tablet of ferrous gluconate (iron supplement) daily recovered the level of hemoglobin much faster than those who did not have the supplement.
Keeping Our Blood Donors Healthy
This study opens the door to helping blood donors to continue to make their donations, which are so badly needed, while maintaining their own health. The Red Cross urges people to eat a healthy diet, rich in iron, as well as to take an iron supplement as part of the regimen. Donated blood is collected and then stored in a Red Cross center. The donated blood and all information about the blood is scanned into a computer database.
Most donated blood is “spun,” a process in which the red blood cells, platelets and plasma are separated, as these are the elements in the blood that can be transfused. Plasma can be further processed to manufacture other blood components. All blood donated to the Red Cross is fully tested by one of the three Red Cross National Testing Labs. This testing will establish the blood type as well as test for any form of infectious disease. Donors whose blood tested positive for any infectious disease are confidentially notified, and the blood donated will immediately be discarded. Various blood components can be stored successfully for varying lengths of time.
There is no question that it is important that blood donors stay healthy, and continue to give. The addition of an iron supplement daily is an answer for those who make donating blood one of their volunteer activities.