Iron supplementation, compared to no supplementation, significantly reduced time to recovery of lost iron and hemoglobin after a blood donation, according to a National Institutes of Health-funded study. Findings from the study will be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Hemoglobin and Iron Recovery Study (HEIRS) was randomized that ran from April 2012 to December 2012 across four blood centers in the United States (n=215). The study aimed to measure the effect low-dose daily iron supplementation on recovery time of lost hemoglobin and iron after donating a unit of blood. None of the blood donors had donated blood in the last four months.

The blood donors were divided into either a lower iron or a higher iron group. Half of each group was randomized to take one ferrous gluconate tablet (38mg of low-dose iron) daily for 24 weeks after their blood donation. Researchers measured hemoglobin and iron levels seven times during the study.

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Results showed that donors who took iron supplements recovered to pre-donation hemoglobin levels faster in both the lower iron (5 weeks vs. 23 weeks) and higher iron (4 weeks vs. 11 weeks) when compared to donors who did not take iron. Also, donors who took iron supplements recovered lost iron faster than those who did not take supplements (11 weeks vs. >24 weeks). Two-third of those who did not take iron supplements did not recover the iron lost after 24 weeks.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is supporting more research to address topics such as who benefits most from iron supplementation, and the amount and duration of iron supplementation needed.

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