Red blood cells, also known as erythrocytes, are the most common blood cells in the body. In fact, about a quarter of all cells in the body are red blood cells. Their primary function is to carry oxygen to all tissues of the body, picking up the oxygen from the lungs and releasing it as they enter the capillaries. Over 2.4 million new red blood cells are produced every second, and they survive in the body for up to 120 days.
There are many reasons that your red blood cell count could be too low. The most common reasons include anemia, bone marrow failure, malnutrition, leukemia, hemolysis due to transfusions or injury to the blood vessels, being too hydrated, nutritional deficiencies, or even pregnancy. There are some drugs that can also bring down your red blood cell counts, including several cancer drugs.
Fortunately, there are several ways to increase the red blood cell count in your body.
Foods to Increase Red Blood Cells
Eating the right foods can help increase the number of red blood cells in your body. Here are a few of the ways you can eat your way to better blood cell health:
- Iron. Food rich in iron can help your body rebuild what it has lost. Lentils and legumes are a great way to get the iron you need and they are healthy for you in many other ways, too.
- Copper. This vital mineral can be found in many foods, including shellfish, poultry, liver, whole grains, beans, cherries, chocolate and nuts.
- Folic Acid. Long known as a great help for pregnant and nursing mothers, foods that contain folic acid include lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, blackeyed peas and cereals fortified with folic acid.
- Vitamin A. This very important vitamin can be found in a multitude of fruits, including grapefruit, mango, watermelon, plums, cantaloupe and apricots.
- Vitamin B12. Meat, eggs and fortified cereals are a great way to get plenty of B12 in your diet. Since those on a western diet get plenty of this, a lack of B12 is rare.
- Vitamin B6. This vitamin is found in a wide variety of foods, including meats, whole grains and bran, nuts and seeds, fish, vegetables and legumes.
Supplements to Increase Red Blood Cells
Sometimes diet isn’t enough to increase red blood cells. In that case, turning to supplements can help your body produce the red blood cells it needs. Here are a few options:
- Iron. This is a vital nutrient that your blood cells need to function properly. Women need 18 mg and men need 8 mg of iron per day.
- Vitamin B12. Derived from mostly animal foods, B12 can be lacking in vegetarians. Everyone needs 2.4 mcg per day, and a supplement can provide most of that.
- Vitamin B6. Women need 1.5 mg of this vitamin each day, while men need a bit more at 1.7 mg. A supplement can provide this, and you can boost the intake with baked potatoes, bananas and fish.
- Vitamin E. This vitamin is excellent for good health, including red blood cells. Everyone needs about 15 mg of this per day. However, supplements might provide much more than that, so speak with your doctor about whether that is okay for you.
Lifestyle Changes to Increase Red Blood Cells
There are a few lifestyle changes you can try that might keep your red blood cell count going strong. Here are a few that you can try right now:
- Exercise. Good amounts of exercise make the body use more oxygen, which demands more red blood cell production. This is especially effective if you live at a high altitude. But keep in mind that you must have certain vitamins in order to make this work, especially B12 and B6, so make sure to get plenty of them in your diet.
- Cut off Certain Things. Keep in mind that some medications can cause lower red blood cell counts, and so can excessive alcohol consumption. For instance, if you have been diagnosed with thrombocytopenia – low amounts of platelets in the blood – you might want to avoid aspirin and alcohol.
Medical Ways to Increase Red Blood Cells
What if you have tried a diet rich in the nutrients needed, and you have also taken supplements, but your red blood cell count remains low? In that case, it might be time for medical intervention. Keep in mind that this is usually a last resort, and most doctors will only go this route if your deficiencies in red blood cells are significant.
- Medications. Antibiotics for infections, drugs that help fight auto-immune disorders and hormones that regulate menstrual bleeding are a few of the ways medications can help relieve the problem.
- Surgery. If low red blood cell counts are being caused by physical ailments, surgery might help. Removal of the spleen, removing tumors or treating bleeding ulcers can all help increase your red blood cell count.
- Blood Transfusions. A transfusion of packed red blood cells can help your body carry oxygen, as well as help control bleeding and blood pressure.
- Erythropoietin. This hormone stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. This is often used for individuals who are experiencing kidney failure or going through chemotherapy treatment.
These tips and tricks can help you increase red blood cell production; however, if none of them seem to work well or you are suffering from symptoms, speak to a doctor about the condition. From there, you can figure out what you need to spur production of red blood cells, as well as rule out any medical conditions that need more intense treatment.