What can I do with my diet to increase my red blood count?

Mary heckendorn asked...

I've been diagnosed with low red blood count -- anemia. Besides drugs, what can I do with diet to increase my red blood count?

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Anemia is very common problem, and can have numerous causes. These include lack of iron, or genetics. Anemia can range from mild to severe.

If your anemia is mild, first I would think about vitamin deficiencies. Trying to eat a healthy diet full of iron and vitamins is helpful only if your anemia is caused by a vitamin deficiency or lack of iron. I'd also look at your medications, especially if you take over the counter pain medications. Many of these medications can irritate your stomach, which can cause anemia (the biggest culprits are aspirin and ibuprofen, which you would find in Advil, Aleve, or Motrin). You will need to discuss the use of these medications with your health care provider to see if they are an issue.

Severe anemia can be a serious health problem, as it can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, and even death if untreated. If your anemia is severe, health problems such as gastrointestinal bleeding, may need to be ruled out. Sometimes blood transfusions are necessary to help correct anemias that are severe. I would first start by finding out from your health care provider what type of anemia you have. I should mention that there are special medications that help only in certain kinds of chronic anemia (long-term anemia). You may have seen them advertised for use in cancer patients, as sometimes chemotherapy can cause long-term anemia. These medications do have side effects and can only be used with specific anemias, as they are very expensive.