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Whole blood donation and iron health

Blood is rich in red cells that contain haemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. A key component of haemoglobin is iron. Iron is an important dietary mineral and is essential for your body to function normally.
When you donate whole blood you lose about 200-250mg of iron with each donation.

Generally, the body will replace any iron loss through diet and we recommend a healthy dietary intake of iron-rich foods. However, replacing this amount of iron through diet alone can take some time. This means your iron stores may decrease over time and may lead to iron deficiency. 

Iron deficiency may cause:

  • tiredness,
  • difficulty concentrating, and
  • low haemoglobin levels (also called anaemia).

We check your haemoglobin before each donation. If your haemoglobin is low you'll be unable to donate and we will send a sample of your blood to our laboratory for a ferritin (iron) test. We’ll let you know the results of your test by mail in approximately two weeks. 

If you have any concerns about your iron levels, or want to know more about whether iron supplements may be suitable for your situation, we recommend that you consult your general practitioner. If you’re planning to become pregnant, it’s especially important that you build and maintain healthy iron stores to support the increased iron requirements of pregnancy.

Find out more about iron and haemoglobin

What does research show about iron in blood donors?

Research shows some blood donors are more at risk of iron deficiency than others. These include younger donors, women of childbearing age and frequent whole blood donors. Replacing the iron loss from donation through diet alone can take a long time, so it is important for us to investigate other ways for donors to replace the iron. 

Our own research along with other international research has shown that a short course of iron supplements following whole blood donation in women of childbearing age is effective in replacing iron stores prior to the donor’s next visit.

 As the current legislation does not allow the Blood Service to dispense iron supplements from our donor centres, we recently investigated two other approaches. The READ Study provided donors with a recommendation to take a short course of iron following donation. Donors were required to purchase their own supplement.

In the DIRECT Study, the iron supplements were provided at no cost to donors. 

These studies were designed to help us understand if female donors aged 18 to 45 would find it acceptable to use a short course of iron supplements after donation and the issues that may impact compliance such as the cost and inconvenience, remembering to take tablets and managing side effects.

We’re currently considering the information gathered from these studies and assessing the feasibility of implementation on a national scale.  This is a challenging area for us and for many blood services around the world.  We’re identifying a suitable approach that will optimise safety,  and effectiveness.

The findings of these two major studies have been published internationally in the Transfusion journal August 2017, Volume 57.
Postdonation iron replacement for maintaining iron stores in female whole blood donors in routine donor practice: results of two feasibility studies in Australia; Transfusion Volume 57; August 2017
Authors: Sant-Rayn Pasricha, Denese Marks, Hannah Salvin, Tania Brama, Anthony Keller, Joanne Pink, Joanna Speedy

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