Red blood cells are important for carrying oxygen throughout the body. Hemoglobin is a protein in the red blood cells which carry oxygen. These cells are produced in the bone marrow and live for 120 days. A normal hemoglobin level in men is 14.0 and 17.5 g/dL; in women, it is between 12.3 and 15.3 g/dL.
How does hemoglobin carry oxygen?
Each hemoglobin protein carries four oxygen molecules and delivers oxygen to the whole body. Every cell of the body needs oxygen to repair and maintain. It also helps in retaining the disc-like shape of red blood cells, which allows them to move easily in the blood vessels.
A low level of hemoglobin is directly related to the low level of oxygen. The hemoglobin level less than 13.5g/dL in men or less than 12 g/dL in women is considered low.
Low hemoglobin count associated with diseases and conditions
Low hemoglobin can occur if -
- The body produces less red blood cells than usual
- Body destroys red blood cells faster than they can be produced
- Experience blood loss
Low hemoglobin levels indicate that a person has anaemia. There are various types of anaemia’s -
- Iron-deficiency anaemia is the most common type and occurs when there is not enough iron in the body and cannot make hemoglobin that is required. Usually caused by blood loss and poor absorption of iron.
- Pregnancy-related anaemia is a kind of iron-deficiency anaemia that occurs because of pregnancy.
- Vitamin-deficiency anaemia occurs when there are low levels of nutrients, like vitamin B12 or folic acid in the diet. In this anaemia there is change the shape of the red blood cells that makes them less effective.
- Aplastic anaemia is a disorder where the blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow are attacked by the immune system that results in fewer red blood cells.
- Haemolytic anaemia can be due to any condition or can be inherited. It occurs when the red blood cells are broken down in the bloodstream or the spleen.
- Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited condition where the blood cells are sickle-shaped and stop flowing through small blood cells.
When the body produces fewer red blood cells than normal in diseases or conditions that are -
- Certain medications like for HIV
- Chronic kidney disease
- Lead poisoning
- Multiple myelomas
- Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Diseases and conditions that cause the body to destroy red blood cells faster than they can be produced include -
- Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly)
A low haemoglobin count can also be due to blood loss, because of -
- Bleeding from wound
- Bleeding in digestive tracts like from ulcers, cancers or haemorrhoids
- Bleeding in the urinary tract
- Frequent blood donation
- Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding)
Symptoms of low hemoglobin include -
- shortness of breath
- fast or irregular heartbeat
- pounding in the ears
- cold hands and feet
- pale or yellow skin
- chest pain
How to increase haemoglobin?
1. Increasing iron intake
Reduced levels of haemoglobin may increase by eating more iron-rich foods. Iron helps to boost the production of haemoglobin, which also helps to form more red blood cells.
Iron-rich foods include:
- meat and fish
- soy products
- dried fruits like dates and figs
- green leafy vegetables like spinach
- green beans
- nuts and seeds
- peanut butter
2. Increasing folate intake
Folate is a type of vitamin B which plays an essential part in haemoglobin production. The body uses folate to produce heme, which helps to carry oxygen.
Good sources of folate include:
- black-eyed peas
- kidney beans
3. Maximizing iron absorption
Consuming iron in foods or supplements is necessary, but a person should also help their body to absorb that iron.
Foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, and leafy green vegetables, can aid in boosting the amount of iron absorbed. Vitamin A and beta-carotene help in the absorption and use of iron.
Foods rich in vitamin A include:
- sweet potatoes
Foods high in beta-carotene like yellow, red, and orange fruits and vegetables, such as:
- sweet potatoes
4. Taking iron supplements
Doctors based on the blood reports advise iron supplements. The dosage depends on the present level of Haemoglobin. Supplements will help in increasing the levels of iron over a few weeks.
If you feel any of the symptoms then consult a doctor even before taking supplements.