NIH study shows iron supplementation after blood donation shortens hemoglobin recovery time

Feb. 11, 2015

A National Institutes of Health-funded study comparing low-dose iron supplementation to no supplementation in blood donors found that supplementation significantly reduced the time to recovery of post-donation lost iron and hemoglobin—an iron-rich protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body. The results of the Hemoglobin and Iron Recovery Study (HEIRS), supported by NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The randomized trial ran from April 2012 to December 2012 at four blood centers in the United States and included 215 blood donors age 18 and older. The study measured the effect of low-dose daily iron supplementation on the time to recovery of lost hemoglobin and iron after donating a unit of blood. Participants included 136 females and 79 males; 52 donors were 60 years or older. None had donated blood in the last four months.

Researchers separated the blood donors into two groups based on their iron levels: a lower iron and a higher iron group. Half of each group was randomized to take one tablet of ferrous gluconate (38 mg of low dose iron) daily for 24 weeks following its blood donation. Hemoglobin and iron levels were measured seven times during the study. Compared to donors who did not take iron, donors taking iron supplements returned to pre-donation hemoglobin levels faster in both the lower iron (five weeks versus 23 weeks) and higher iron groups (four weeks versus 11 weeks). Similarly, donors taking iron supplements recovered lost iron more rapidly than those not receiving supplements (11 weeks versus more than 24 weeks). Without iron supplementation, two-thirds of the donors did not recover the iron lost from donating blood after 24 weeks.

Read the study at the JAMA website