The Role of Red Blood Cells in Anemia

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How to Increase Red Blood Cell Count

Four Parts:

A lack of iron in the diet and, perhaps, other minerals and nutrients is the most common cause of a low red blood cell count. Eating foods rich in 5 ingredients may help to increase your red blood cell count, including iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, copper, and Vitamin A. You will also want to include copper, vitamins B12, B6, B9, C, and E. Lifestyle changes may also help to increase your red blood cell count, such as getting regular exercise. If these interventions fail, then your doctor may prescribe medication and blood transfusions may to increase your red blood cell count.


Making Diet Modifications

  1. Incorporate iron-rich food in your diet for nutritional improvement.This will help the body rebuild and replace what is lacking. Daily intake of iron rich food will help increase RBCs in the body. This is because it is an essential part of a red blood cell and hemoglobin as it helps deliver oxygen to different body parts. It also helps in excretion of carbon monoxide upon exhalation. Food rich in iron includes:
    • Beans/Legumes
    • Lentils
    • Green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach
    • Dried fruits including prunes
    • Organs meats such as liver
    • Egg yolks
    • Red meat
    • Dried raisins
      • If daily consumption of iron rich food daily is not enough, you can turn for supplements and minerals that may increase red blood production. Iron is available in 50-100mg and can be taken 2-3 times daily.
  2. Get more copper.Copper is another essential mineral that helps the cells access the chemical form of iron necessary for red blood cells during the process of iron metabolism. Copper can be found in poultry meats, shellfish, liver, whole grains, chocolate, beans, cherries and nuts. Copper supplements are also available in 900mcg tablet form and can be taken once daily.
    • Accordingly, adults require 900 micrograms of copper per day. During the reproductive years, women menstruate thus require more copper than men.
  3. Make sure you get enough folic acid.Otherwise known as vitamin B9, folic acid helps in the production of normal RBCs. A significant decrease folic acid may predispose anemia.
    • Cereals, bread, dark green leafy vegetables, peas, lentils, beans and nuts contain high amounts of folic acid. It is also available in supplement form – 100 to 250mcg can be taken once daily.
    • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists or ACOG recommends a daily intake of 400 mcg every day for adult women who regularly menstruate. Likewise, the National Institute of Health recommends 600 mcg of folic acid for pregnant women.
    • Besides aiding in production of healthy blood cells, folic acid plays an essential role in the production and repair of the basic building block of cells in normal functioning DNA.
  4. Take vitamin A (Retinol).Vitamin A, supports stem cell development of RBCs in the bone marrow by ensuring that developing red blood cells access enough iron required to process hemoglobin.
    • Sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet red peppers and fruits like apricots, grapefruit, watermelon, plums/prunes and cantaloupe melons are rich in Vitamin A.
    • The daily dietary requirement of vitamin A for women is 700 mcg and 900 mcg for men.
  5. Get your vitamin C, too.Take vitamin C when you take your iron supplement to bring about a synergistic effect. This is because vitamin C boosts the ability of the body to absorb more iron, increasing red blood cell production.
    • Taking 500mg of vitamin C once daily together with iron will increase its absorption rate in the body making it more effective. However, take precautions while taking iron as high levels of the supplement can be harmful to the body.

Part 1 Quiz

Why might a woman need to take more copper supplements or eat more copper-rich foods, like fish and nuts, than a man?

Making Lifestyle Modifications

  1. Get your daily exercise.Exercise is good for everyone – including those with low RBC levels – and it can benefit you both physically and mentally. It keeps you healthy and is recommended to avoid acquiring certain diseases and illnesses.
    • Cardiovascular exercises such as jogging, running, and swimming are best, though all exercise is good.
    • Exercise has an important role in red blood cell production. When you do vigorous exercises, you get tired and sweat a lot. Vigorous exercise requires the body to get a greater amount of oxygen. If that happens it will signal the brain that the body lacks oxygen therefore, stimulating production of red blood cells and hemoglobin. This carries and supplies the oxygen needed.
  2. Kick the bad habits.If you're concerned about your RBC count, it's best to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. It's best to kick these habits for your overall health, too.
    • Cigarette smoking can interrupt blood flow as it constricts the blood vessels and make blood viscous in consistency. It will make the blood unable to circulate properly and deliver oxygen to other body parts and. Also, it can make the bone marrow deprived from the oxygen.
    • On the other hand, excessive alcohol consumption can also make the blood thicken and slow, deprive it of oxygen, reduce RBC production, and will produce immature red blood cells.
  3. Get a blood transfusion if necessary.If your RBC count is so low that food and supplements can no longer provide large amounts of RBCs, blood transfusion may be an option. You can talk to your primary doctor and have a diagnostic test given. This is a complete blood count (CBC) that will measure the number of RBCs you have in your body.
    • Normal range of RBCs is 4 to 6 million cells per milliliter. If you have a very low RBC count a doctor may tell you to undergo a blood transfusion of packed red blood cell (PRBC) or whole blood to meet the demands of RBC and other blood components in the body.
  4. Get a routine physical assessment.Visiting your doctor regularly is the best way to know how your RBCs are doing. What's more, additional tests may be required to rule out any underlying condition which causes low RBC count. It’s best to see your physician regularly. An annual physical check-up is a healthy habit.
    • If you have been told you have a low RBC count, take the above tips to heart. Dedicate your lifestyle and diet to upping your count and revisit your doctor. Your levels, ideally, will normalize.

Part 2 Quiz

Which of the following is a negative side effect of excessive alcohol consumption on red blood cell count?

Understanding Red Blood Cell Counts

  1. Know the basics of red blood cells.Around a quarter of the human body cells are red blood cells, or erythrocytes. These RBCs are developed in the bone marrow produced at approximately 2.4 million red blood cells per second.
    • Erythrocytes circulate in the body for 100 to 120 days. It is the same reason why we can only donate blood once every 3 to 4 months.
    • Men have an average of 5.2 million RBCs per cubic millimeter meanwhile 4.6 million in women. If you are a regular blood donor, you’ll notice that there are more men who passed the blood donation screening than women.
  2. Know how hemoglobin works in the blood.The iron-rich protein known as hemoglobin is the main component of the red blood cells. It is responsible for the red color as iron binds with oxygen.
    • Each hemoglobin molecule has four iron atoms and each of which binds to 1 oxygen molecule with 2 oxygen atoms. Around 33% of an erythrocyte is hemoglobin normally 15.5 g/dL in men and 14 g/dL in women.
  3. Understand the role of red blood cells.Red blood cells play an important role in transporting oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the tissues and cells. RBCs have cell membranes composed of lipids and proteins essential for physiological function while working within the capillary network through the circulatory system.
    • In addition, red blood cells aid in the removal of carbon dioxide. They contain the carbonic anhydrase enzyme which allows for a reaction of water and carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid and separate hydrogen and bicarbonate ions.
    • Hydrogen ions bind with hemoglobin while bicarbonate ions go to the plasma removing approximately 70% of carbon dioxide. Twenty percent of carbon dioxide binds with hemoglobin which then released in the lungs. Meanwhile, the remaining 7% gets dissolved in the plasma.

Part 3 Quiz

Why do men tend to donate blood more often than women?

Sample Diet Plan

Community Q&A

  • Question
    How does Beta thalassemia minor affect red blood cell count?

    Dr. Ziadie is a Board Certified Pathologist in South Florida. She completed her fellowship in Pediatric Pathology at Children’s Medical Center in 2010.
    Expert Answer
    In general, beta thalassemia minor only causes a very mild anemia, which is a reduced red blood cell count.
  • Question
    Can drinking water increase red blood cell count?

    Dr. Ziadie is a Board Certified Pathologist in South Florida. She completed her fellowship in Pediatric Pathology at Children’s Medical Center in 2010.
    Expert Answer
    No. It is important to stay hydrated, but drinking too much water can dilute your blood, which may cause a decrease in your red blood cell counts.
  • Question
    Are there any fruits I can eat to increase my red blood cell count?

    Dr. Ziadie is a Board Certified Pathologist in South Florida. She completed her fellowship in Pediatric Pathology at Children’s Medical Center in 2010.
    Expert Answer
    There are some fruits you can eat that will help, but a balance of nutrients is what is most important. The best foods to eat to improve your red blood cell count are those high in iron, such as beef, poultry, fish, dark leafy greens, beans and tofu. However, you should also eat foods that are high in vitamin C, which helps your body absorb iron. Many fruits are rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, grapefruits, melon, and strawberries. It is also important to get plenty of folic acid from dark leafy vegetables, liver, oranges, papayas, bananas. Vitamin B12 is also useful for red blood cell counts and you can get it from animal products including fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk.
  • Question
    Do acid reducers block iron absorption?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, stomach acid is necessary for the ionization and absorption of iron, as well as other minerals like calcium, iodine, and zinc. Acid reducers really do a number on your ability to digest and assimilate food, as stomach acid also signals to the liver and pancreas to produce their respective digestive juices.
  • Question
    Will sex increase red blood cells?
    Starlene Silver Owens
    Community Answer
    Typically, any aerobic exercise that increases heart and respiratory rates - sexual activity included - will be helpful in improving RBC levels. This is true because exercise increases the body's need for oxygen. RBCs carry oxygen to the tissues in the body; therefore, the need for more oxygen triggers the production of more RBCs to carry said oxygen.
  • Question
    What fruit helps improve red blood cell count?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    rasins and other dry fruits, figs, grapes, oranges and strawberries all help improve red blood cell count.
  • Question
    What can I do to help someone manage a low red blood cell count?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    The basic principle is to take in more iron-containing foods coupled with Vitamin C (because it aids in the absorption of the iron). Two simple but effective recipes to help boost the RBC level is to either mix two egg yolks with boiled milk and take before bed time or blend carrots with beetroot and drink before sleeping.
  • Question
    What kind of problems might someone with a low red blood cell count face?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You might experience dizziness, become tired and/or find it hard to breath sometimes. Low counts may lead to a stroke or heart attack.
  • Question
    Does low blood count affect your breathing?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the muscles and tissue of your body. They also get rid of carbon dioxide. Blood cells are your body's oxygen transportation.
  • Question
    Will medical cannabis lower your red blood count?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    No, cannabis should not lower RBC count. Maybe look more into your diet and exercise.
Unanswered Questions
  • I'm getting pain that travels throughout my body. Sometimes my veins hurt and my heart beats hard. My CK level 3 months ago was 1500 now its 560. The body pain is not going away. What could be wrong?
  • What are the effects of conceiving while your red blood cell count is low?
  • What should I do when the appendix and gall bladder operations are over? What should I have to eat?
  • How do I get a blood transfusion when I have low red blood cell count?
  • Are the above remedies effective for a person with Auto-Immune Hypothyroid? Also, I've noted several improvements in supplements and exercise that I can do, thanks. But besides that?
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Quick Summary

To increase your red blood cell count, incorporate iron-rich foods into your diet, like beans or leafy green vegetables. Also, include foods like nuts and bread to make sure you’re getting enough folic acid. For a healthy red blood cell count in your bone marrow, add fruits like apricots or watermelon, or take a vitamin A supplement to ensure you’re getting between 700 to 900 micrograms per day. Additionally, adults should take 900 micrograms of copper, and 500 micrograms of vitamin C to keep red blood cell counts healthy.

Did this summary help you?
  • Vitamins B12 and B6 are good, too. Vitamin B12 is available in 2.4mcg tablet form and should be taken once daily. Vitamin B6 is available in 1.5mcg tablet form and should also be taken once daily. Meat and eggs contain vitamin B12 and banana, fish, and baked potatoes contain vitamin B6.
  • The lifespan of an RBC is about 120 days; right after that the bone marrow releases a new set of RBCs.

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations

  • Harold S. Ballard, MD, “The Hematological Complications of Alcoholism."
  • Marie Dunford, J. Doyle, “Nutrition for Sport and Exercise," Chapter 8, page 302.

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