While low red blood cells can be a sign of a serious health issue, such as anemia, there are ways to increase RBC.
People generally don’t think about their red blood cells or the possibility of having low red blood cells until they start developing problems. It can be helpful to understand why we need a proper level of red blood cells and how to increase RBC count.
Some people suffer from low red blood cells due to an illness, while others might be lacking certain vitamins in their diet. There are also diseases that are inherited and can lead to low red blood cells. Red blood cells are vital because they remove carbon dioxide from the body by transporting it to our lungs for us to exhale. Red blood cells are made inside our bone marrow and usually live for about 120 days before dying. More are then formed, and the cycle goes on.
Low blood cells can be due to a condition known as anemia. People who are suffering from anemia tend to have red blood cells that are an odd shape or are larger or smaller than normal. If you suffer from anemia, you could have various symptoms, including tiredness, irregular heartbeat, pale skin, feeling cold, and in severe cases, you could even experience heart failure. Children with low red blood cells can grow more slowly than other children.
An RBC count can tell doctors if you have a blood-related illness, such as anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. A low count can also indicate a deficiency in vitamin B6 or folate.
How to increase red blood cells
If you want to increase RBC count, you may have to look at your nutritional intake. For instance, eating an iron-rich diet can increase production of red blood cells. There are all kinds of iron-rich foods to choose from. Adding B vitamins can also be helpful.
Bread and enriched cereals have a lot of B-9, which is folic acid. Although copper doesn’t directly produce red blood cells, it can help the cells access the iron they need to replicate. Foods rich in vitamin B-12, B-6, vitamin A, and vitamin C can also support RBC production.
Foods to increase red blood cell count:
Low iron levels are associated with anemia, which can cause those affected to feel excessively weak and fatigued. Iron is required by our red blood cells to be able to deliver oxygen to the body, and without iron, they can die prematurely. Eating foods rich in iron can help keep your blood healthy. Iron-rich foods include:
- Oysters, clams, and mussels
- Red meats
- Vegetables, such as spinach and peas
- Pumpkin seeds
- Enriched cereals
- White beans and lentils
Foods with B-12
This B vitamin helps to promote brain function and the creation of new red blood cells. It is also required to allow red blood cells to fully mature and perform their oxygen delivery function. Cases of B12 deficiency can lead to a condition called megaloblastic anemia, which is named after immature red blood cells that have increased in number, called megaloblasts. The following are some foods rich in vitamin B12:
- Milk and cheese
- Soy milk
- Non-fat plain Greek yogurt
- Liver and kidney meat
- Fish, such as trout, salmon, and tuna
- Dried apricots
- Sunflower seeds
- Dark chocolate
Another important B vitamin, also known as pyridoxine, that is used by the body to make and use protein and glycogen, which are energy sources for your muscles and liver. Vitamin B6 also helps to form hemoglobin, an important factor for the transfer of oxygen throughout the body. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include:
- Chicken giblets
- Egg yolk
- Dried beans
- Soy products
- Brussels Sprouts
Foods with folic acid
Folic acid or vitamin B9 is an essential nutrient required by your nervous system and adrenal glands to create new cells in the body. It is also required to produce red blood cells, as a deficiency of folate can lead to the development of megaloblastic anemia. Foods rich in folic acid include:
- Vegetables, like asparagus and spinach
- Enriched bread and grains
- Rice and pasta
- Citrus fruits such as oranges
Foods with copper
Perhaps more commonly known for being a conductive metal, copper is also required by the body in trace amounts for the production of hemoglobin and collagen in the body. It is also an antioxidant that helps to eliminate free radicals that can cause damage to cells. Recommended daily value of copper is 900mcg per day for both men and women. Copper-rich foods include:
- Beef liver
- Shellfish, such as oysters and crabs
- Sunflower seeds
- Turnip greens
Foods with vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, so it must be replenished all the time. There are plenty of natural sources of this vitamin, but there are those who find it difficult to get enough. Adults should aim for between 75 and 90 mg of vitamin C each day. Vitamin C indirectly helps to promote red blood cell production as its presence in the body helps to absorb more iron. Vitamin-rich foods include:
- Fruits, such as oranges, kiwi, and strawberries
- Grapefruit juice
- Sweet red pepper
Vitamin A foods
Foods that contain vitamin A are important because they support red blood cells by helping cells absorb much-needed iron. Also going by the name retinol, this seldom talked about vitamin is an important part of a person’s diet.
- Sweet potato
- Beef liver
- Cod liver oil
- Beef liver and lamb liver
- Goose liver pate
- Goat cheese
- Kale, collards, and spinach
- Cantaloupe and mango
Vitamin E foods
Vitamin E helps to prolong red blood cell life, allowing them to perform their oxygen-carrying ability much longer. It also aids in the protection of biological membranes found in nerves, muscles, and the cardiovascular system. The average adult requires about 15 mg of vitamin E daily. Most people can get all the vitamin E they need from foods, like the ones listed below. Keep in mind that a lot of vitamin E foods contain fat.
- Wheat germ oil
- Hazelnuts, pine nuts, and peanuts
- Raw turnip greens
- Sunflower seeds
- Atlantic Salmon
- Rainbow trout
- Nut butter, such as almond butter and peanut butter
Lifestyle changes to increase red blood cells count
Experiencing symptoms, such as fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations could be a sign of low red blood count. Making lifestyle changes to help increase red blood cell count isn’t just about food. Exercising can also be beneficial to RBC count.
If you exercise vigorously, it will raise your heart rate and cause your body and brain to require more oxygen. The need for more oxygen triggers the body to produce more red blood cells. Participating in regular exercise, along with maintaining a healthy diet, can allow the bone marrow to create those red blood cells.
Workouts can include running and jogging, cycling, swimming, or guided exercises, such as spinning or aerobics.
It is worth noting that reducing alcohol intake can be helpful to some people who have a low red blood cell count. Drinking too much alcohol has been known to lower RBC count. Some people can get away with moderate drinking and others may not be able to drink at all. Moderate drinking for men is two alcoholic drinks per day or less. Moderate drinking for women is one drink per day or less.
There are situations where lifestyle adjustments aren’t enough to deal with low red blood cell count, but there are medical solutions to increase the number of red blood cells your body generates.
Without the constant cycle of new red blood cells, our bones, tissues, and organs wouldn’t be getting adequate oxygen. Nourishing the body helps build our blood and support a healthy immune system. If you are having difficulty getting proper nutrients or any of the B vitamins, you should see a doctor as soon as possible so you can determine the right course of action.