Hemoglobin is one of the essential components of a red blood cell. It is a protein molecule that carries oxygen from the lungs going to various parts of the body. It also returns carbon dioxide from the body tissues going back to the lungs. Hemoglobin is also the one responsible for maintaining the shape of the red blood cells.
To measure hemoglobin, a standard procedure in the form of CBC (complete blood count) is performed. A machine is used which breaks down red blood cells to get the hemoglobin into a solution.
The normal hemoglobin values are as follows:
- Newborns – 17 to 22 gm/dL
- Children – 11 to 13 gm/dL
- Adult – 12 to 16 gm/dL (women) and 14 to 18 gm/dL (men)
- After middle age – 11.7 to 13.8 gm/dL (women) and 12.4 to 14.9 gm/dL (1, 2, 3, and 4)
Normal hemoglobin level
17 to 22 gm/dL
11 to 13 gm/dL
Women: 12 to 16 gm/dL Men: 14 to 18 gm/dL
After middle age
Women: 11.7 to 13.8 gm/dL Men: 12.4 to 14.9 gm/dL
(hemoglobin is one of the essential blood components.)
What level of hemoglobin is dangerously low?
A hemoglobin level that is less than 6.5 gm/dL is very dangerously low. The patient could die if blood transfusion is not immediately started.
What are the symptoms of a low hemoglobin level?
- The skin and gums are pale.
- The beating of the heart is irregularly fast.
- The patient gets easily tired and complains of fatigue.
- The patient complains of muscle weakness and recurrent headaches. (3, 4, and 5)
What does a low hemoglobin level mean and what are the possible causes?
The medical term for low hemoglobin level is anemia. There are various reasons why your hemoglobin count is low and these are the following:
- Nutritional deficiency such as deficiency is iron, folate, and vitamin B12.
- Problems in the bone marrow such as in people with cancer of the blood.
- Loss of blood secondary to traumatic injury, ulcer in the stomach, or surgery-related complications.
- Kidney failure
- Suppression of red blood cell synthesis secondary to the use of chemotherapeutic drugs.
- Abnormal hemoglobin structure such as in patients with sickle cell anemia. (4, 5, 6, and 7)
How to increase hemoglobin levels?
Increasing the level of hemoglobin can be done in many different ways. You can increase it through blood transfusion, intake of the supplement, and diet and lifestyle modification.(Blood transfusion is one of the fastest ways to increase the level of hemoglobin.) -Source Wikipedia
(Blood transfusion is one of the fastest ways to increase the level of hemoglobin.)
How to increase hemoglobin fast?
One of the fastest ways to increase hemoglobin level is through blood transfusion. The patient should be transfused with red blood cells. How many units of blood should be transfused? It depends as to how low the hemoglobin level is. Usually, one unit of blood is enough as giving extra blood units are not helpful. One unit of blood I good as two and is safer than giving too much blood. (2, 6)
How long does it take for hemoglobin to increase after a blood transfusion?
The level of hemoglobin usually rises 15 to 20 minutes after transfusion and it will remain on that level throughout the first 24 hours. (7, 8)
(Examples of folate-rich foods.)
(The foods above are sources of vitamin A.)
How to increase the level of hemoglobin through your diet?
The level of hemoglobin can be increased significantly by modifying your diet. There are some foods you need to include in your diet as well as foods you need to eat moderately and completely eliminate from your diet.
What kind of foods can increase hemoglobin?
- Iron-rich foods – You should increase your intake of iron-rich foods which include the following:
- Nuts and edible seeds
- Soy-based products such as tofu
- Vegetables like broccoli, kale, green beans, and spinach
- Dried fruits like dates and figs
- Peanut butter
- Folate-rich foods – Folate is a type of vitamin B, which plays an important role in the production of hemoglobin. Foods rich in folate include:
- Beans like kidney beans
- Vegetables like spinach, black-eyed peas, lettuce
- Fruits like avocado
- Foods High In Vitamin C – Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron. Foods rich in vitamin C include the following:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Citrus fruits
- Foods rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene – They help increase the absorption of iron. Examples are:
- Collards and kale
- Sweet potatoes
Note: Too much vitamin A may have a dangerous effect on the body. It would lead to a condition called hypervitaminosis A. symptoms are pain in the joint and pain, increased pressure in the brain, and severe headache. (6, 8, 9, and 10)
The table below shows the food group and the types of foods you should include in your diet to significantly increase your hemoglobin level.
Nuts and edible seeds
Green beans Spinach
Dried fruits like dates and figs
Black-eyed peas Lettuce
Sweet potatoes carrots
Green leafy vegetables
(Examples of foods rich in gluten.) (Examples of foods containing phytic acid.)
What foods to avoid if you have low hemoglobin?
- Tannins – They are substances commonly found in plant-based foods giving them an astringent taste. What tannins do is they interfere with nonheme iron absorption from plant sources like green leafy vegetables, legumes, spinach, and beans. Examples of foods containing tannins are:
- Tea (black, green, and rooibos)
- Gluten – People with Celiac disease should not take foods containing gluten. Eating foods containing gluten can lead to intestinal wall damage thereby preventing the absorption of iron and folate. Examples of gluten-rich foods are:
- Phytates/Phytic Acid – It is a substance found in foods with high fiber content. This substance binds with iron in the digestive system which inhibits iron absorption. Examples are:
- Brown rice
- Legumes (1, 3, 6, and 9)
The table below shows the foods you need to avoid if you have a low hemoglobin level.
How do you treat low hemoglobin?
Aside from blood transfusion and diet modification, there are other ways to treat a low hemoglobin level. These include the following:
- Erythropoietin therapy – the patient receives erythropoietin; a hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells.
- Iron supplement – The patient should be put on an iron supplement, especially if he/she is not used to eating iron-rich foods. However, you should not take an iron supplement without consulting your doctor first. The iron supplement should not be given to children unless it is prescribed by your doctor. Too much intake of iron in children can lead to iron poisoning, which can be extremely fatal.
- Vitamin C – The patient is strongly advised to take vitamin C supplement so as to help the body in absorbing iron thereby promoting the production of hemoglobin.
- Vitamin B 12 and folate – aside from increasing the intake of foods rich in folate and vitamin B12, patients are also advised to take supplements containing B complex and folate. This is particularly helpful in people who are not used to eating foods that naturally contain folate and B12. (2, 4, 6, 9, and 10)
Can low hemoglobin cause death?
Hemoglobin is a vital blood component. Without sufficient amount of hemoglobin in the blood, it would be difficult for the body to transport oxygen, which will eventually result in death. A person will die because of cellular suffocation. A hemoglobin level below 8 is considered dangerously low. If your hemoglobin level falls below 8, you will need immediate medical attention such as a blood transfusion. (4, 5, and 7)