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Hemoglobin is the iron-rich protein present in the red blood cells of vertebrates. The iron-containing pigment in hemoglobin is called 'hematin' and the protein part is termed 'globin'. The main function of hemoglobin is to transport oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues, so as to provide energy for the chemical reactions in the living cells. Carbon dioxide, which is released as a byproduct of these chemical reactions, is taken back to the lungs for exhalation. As the role of hemoglobin in the human body is vital for leading a healthy life, it is very much necessary to maintain the level of this pigment in blood. A slight variation from the normal hemoglobin level may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, drastic variations may cause severe symptoms, and lead to complications, if left untreated. Here is a brief overview about the causes and remedies for this condition.

Causes for Low Hemoglobin Levels
Normal Hemoglobin Range
Adult males - 14 to 18
Adult females - 12 to 16
Pregnant women - 11 to 12
Middle-aged men - 12.5 to 15
Middle-aged women - 11.5 to 14
Newborns - 17 to 22
One-month-old baby - 11 to 15
Children - 11 to 16
* units in gm/dl
  • Nutritional Deficiency: Iron deficiency in the body affects synthesis of hemoglobin and causes iron deficiency anemia, which is characterized by smaller red blood cells sans the red pigment - hemoglobin. One of the reasons is poor intake of iron-rich foods. Apart from iron, deficiency of vitamin B12 and certain other nutrients is also said to affect the level of hemoglobin in the body.
  • Inability to Absorb Iron: In some cases, absorption of iron will get hindered and this will lead to low level of hemoglobin. This happens mostly in those with medical conditions, like Crohn's disease and Coeliac disease, which damage the intestinal lining. Intake of foods that are high in calcium and tannins may also affect iron absorption. For, example, black tea steeped for long duration, is rich in tannins that can interfere with absorption of iron.
  • Blood Loss: Hemoglobin levels may drop due to blood loss from bleeding ulcers or piles. Those who experience heavy menstrual periods and recurrent nosebleeds may also suffer from low hemoglobin levels. Frequent blood donation is also cited as a reason.
  • Lowered Production of Red Blood Cells: Certain medical conditions like leukemia, cirrhosis, hypothyroidism, and kidney diseases, are found to hinder the production of red blood cells. The hemoglobin count may get reduced due to use of certain medication, like those, which are used for treating HIV infection and cancer.
  • Destruction of Blood Cells: There are certain medical conditions, that are characterized by excessive destruction of red blood cells and resultant drop in hemoglobin count. Sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, and splenomegaly are some of these diseases.
It is normal for women to experience low hemoglobin level during pregnancy. While a slight decrease is usually not a major problem, drastic variations may indicate an underlying medical problem or a grave iron-deficiency. You can normalize the condition by treating the underlying cause or by modifying the diet with supplements.

Tips to Increase Hemoglobin Levels

As mentioned above, the underlying cause and the degree of variation in hemoglobin count may not be the same for all. So the method used for rectifying the condition may also vary from one person to another. If there is no underlying disease, a nutritious diet, along with supplements, will suffice. Otherwise, the underlying medical condition has to be treated. If the count is too low, blood transfusion may be recommended. Such circumstances usually arise in case of severe blood loss due to trauma, surgery or certain diseases.

Food Sources and Supplements: In case of iron deficiency anemia, the doctor may advise you to take iron supplements and include iron-rich foods in the diet. It is believed that iron in food from animal sources are more beneficial in increasing hemoglobin levels, when compared to that from plant sources. Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid are also found beneficial for increasing hemoglobin levels. The following are some food sources that are rich in iron and the aforesaid vitamins.

Fruits and Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables
Tomatoes, Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Red capsicum, Beans
Cabbage, Peas, Beets
Asparagus, Corn
Orange, Cantaloupe
Pineapple, Grapefruit
Banana, Raspberry
Strawberry, Guava
Papayas, Kiwi fruit
Black currants, Mango
Lychee, Sprouts
Other Foods
Poultry, Eggs
Shellfish, Fish
Red meat, Liver
Molasses, Lentils
Fortified cereals
Dry fruits, Nuts
Sunflower seeds
Soymilk, Jaggery
Black sesame seeds
Whole grains
Baker's yeast
Oat and Wheat bran
Peanut butter
Herbal Remedies
Withania
Fenugreek seeds
Dandelion greens
Nettleleaf
Dong Quai
Ashwagandha
Spirulina
Yellow dock root
Carao fruit
Rosemary
Basil, Alfalfa
Thyme, Sage
Red Raspberry leaf

Avoid iron blockers: While taking iron supplements and iron-rich food, you have to avoid intake of certain food items, which affect the body's ability to absorb iron. These iron-blockers include tea, coffee, foods rich in fiber, foods with high levels of calcium (like milk, cheese, chocolate, caffeinated drinks) and some medicines with phosphates and antacids.

Reduce intake of foods with oxalic acid: It is also said that foods rich in oxalic acid can interfere with iron absorption in the body. Spinach, which is a rich source of iron, contain oxalic acid too. The latter may bind to the iron and make it difficult for the body to absorb the mineral. However, the effect of oxalic acid may vary from one person to another and the type of food.

Avoid foods with gluten: Those with coeliac disease must avoid foods with gluten, as it can interfere with absorption of nutrients, like iron. So avoid wheat and wheat products and other foods that contain gluten to avoid iron deficiency and resultant low hemoglobin levels.

Increase intake of vitamin C: It will be more beneficial if you take vitamin C (or foods rich in vitamin C), along with iron supplements. Vitamin C is useful for increased absorption of iron in the body, which in turn enhances hemoglobin levels.

In short, the above said foods, vitamins and herbs, may prove helpful for increasing hemoglobin levels. Another product, named chitosan, is also said to be beneficial. Chitosan is derived from the exoskeleton of shrimp. Iron supplements should be taken according to the prescription of your doctor. Some users may develop constipation and stomach upset. These supplements should not be taken in large quantities, as it can cause an iron overload, which could be toxic to the body. Even vitamins have to be taken as per the advice of the doctor. This applies to herbs and other supplements too. Make sure that you inform the doctor about your medical conditions and the current medication.

However, low hemoglobin count may be caused by underlying medical conditions and so, it is necessary to rule out the possibility of such diseases and disorders. If the condition is caused by blood loss due to bleeding ulcers, it is the ulcer that needs treatment, along with measures to increase hemoglobin count. In case of severe anemia, blood transfusion is also suggested, for a quick replacement of iron and hemoglobin. In short, decrease in hemoglobin count may be due to different reasons. If it is due to low intake of iron, then, iron supplements or a diet that is rich in this mineral will do. If there is any underlying medical condition that is causing the dip in hemoglobin level, that condition has to be treated.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.