Hemoglobin and Low Hemoglobin Count
Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein in the body composed of hematin that carries iron and globin that is the protein. It is the part of the blood that transports life-sustaining oxygen to the cells of the body and transports the waste carbon dioxide away from the cells. As such, it is a vital component of your health. If your hemoglobin count is low, you can suffer many illnesses.
2. Low Hemoglobin Count
In order to understand low hemoglobin, it is necessary to know what your hemoglobin count should be. To treat low hemoglobin, it is also necessary to understand what may be causing the problem.
Normal Hemoglobin Count. In adult men, a normal hemoglobin range is 14-18 gm/dl. In adult women, this range is lower at 12-16 gm/dl. Pregnant women may have hemoglobin counts as low as 11-12 gm/dl. As you age, it is normal for your hemoglobin count to decrease by 2-3 gm/dl. Newborns have a very high normal hemoglobin count of 17-22 gm/dl which will decrease over time until a normal hemoglobin for a child stabilizes at 11-16 gm/dl.
Low Hemoglobin Count Causes. There are several things that can cause low hemoglobin including:
- Iron deficiency in the diet. Because iron affects the body’s ability to make hemoglobin, a deficiency in the mineral can lead to iron deficiency anemia and a low hemoglobin count.
- Poor absorption of iron. Even if you take in iron-rich food, if you have a disease such as Celiac or Crohn’s disease that causes your intestines NOT to absorb the iron, you will have low hemoglobin.
- Bleeding and blood loss. You may have a low hemoglobin count if you are losing a lot of blood quickly or sustained losses over time.
- Decreased red blood cell production. If you have any disease that keeps your body from producing red blood cells (leukemia, kidney disease, decreased thyroid, etc.), your hemoglobin count will be low. Certain medications (for example, chemotherapy) may also cause decreased red cell production.
Blood cell destruction. Again, this is typically seen in specific diseases such as thalassemia and sickle cell anemia.
How to Increase Hemoglobin
Unless you have an underlying disease, there are several ways to increase your hemoglobin count.
1. Foods to Increase Hemoglobin
If you have low hemoglobin, one of the easiest ways to increase your level is to make sure your diet includes enough iron. It is recommended that women get 8 mgs of iron each day; men should get 10 mgs.
- Iron-rich Foods. If you eat meat, beef, liver, and shrimp are great iron-rich foods. If you are a vegetarian, you will have to get your iron from sources that are not as readily absorbable. Some of these sources are spinach, tofu, asparagus, pineapple, dried fruits and iron-enriched breads and grains. If you are not allergic, add some almonds and other nuts to your diet for a quick boost in iron.
- Vitamin C-rich Foods. Vitamin C helps your body to absorb the iron you eat. You can get vitamin C from many fruits and vegetables including peppers, mangoes, oranges, strawberries, cabbage, broccoli, grapefruit, tangerines, tomatoes, and spinach.
- Folic Acid-rich Foods. Folic acid is one of the B vitamins that are essential in producing red blood cells. Folic acid is found in sprouts, seeds, peanuts, broccoli, wheat germ, and other nuts. Be sure to add more folic acid to your diet if you are taking a lot of Vitamin C since Vitamin C causes your body to excrete folic acid.
- Whole Grains. Many whole grains in the form of breads, cereals and pastas are enriched with iron. These iron-enriched foods can provide a good source of iron to increase your hemoglobin. Be sure to read the label to know how much iron is in your food.
2. Supplements to Increase Hemoglobin
Your healthcare provider may want you to take prescription or over-the-counter supplements to increase your hemoglobin level. Some of these supplements may include iron (20-25 mg per day), vitamin B6 (50-100 mg per day), vitamin B12 (500-1000 mg per day), vitamin C (1000 mg per day) and folic acid (400 mcg per day). The iron helps in the synthesis of the hematin. The vitamins and folic acid are critical for the production of the red blood cells that carry the hemoglobin.
3. Herbs to Increase Hemoglobin
Herbs can be very useful when trying to increase your hemoglobin level. Specifically, nettle leaf, dong quai, and withania may be helpful. Nettle leaf contains iron, the B vitamins, vitamin C and other vitamins that can help increase hemoglobin. Dong quai and withania have been used for centuries to increase red blood cells and to make the hemoglobin in the cells healthier. As with any over-the-counter supplement or herb, be sure to check with your healthcare provider to ensure that the herbs do not interact with other medications you may be taking.
4. Blood Transfusion to Increase Hemoglobin
Particularly if low hemoglobin is due to blood loss from surgery or trauma, your healthcare provider may recommend a blood transfusion to replace the hemoglobin that has been lost. Except in the case of massive blood loss, your doctor will typically try other methods to increase your hemoglobin before using a transfusion.
5. Things to Avoid
There are also certain things you should avoid to prevent low hemoglobin count.
- Iron Blockers: There are foods that block your body from absorbing iron. Avoid drinks such as coffee, tea, milk, and colas and foods that contain a lot of fiber and calcium. Over-the-counter antacids can also block the absorption of iron.
- Oxalic Acid Foods: In some people, foods high in oxalic acid (such as parsley) may bind with iron and not allow your body to absorb the iron.
- Food with Gluten: If you have celiac disease, you should avoid gluten- containing foods such as wheat since the gluten can block the absorption of iron.