In addition to transporting oxygen, hemoglobin carries carbon dioxide out of the cells and into the lungs. Carbon dioxide is then released as a person exhales. Having low hemoglobin can make it difficult for the body to perform these functions.
In this article, learn how to increase hemoglobin levels naturally. We also look at methods of testing and what the results show.
How to increase hemoglobin
A person can raise their hemoglobin levels at home by:
1. Increasing iron intake
Hemoglobin is an important component of red blood cells.
A person with reduced levels of hemoglobin may benefit from eating more iron-rich foods. Iron works to boost the production of hemoglobin, which also helps to form more red blood cells.
Iron-rich foods include:
- meat and fish
- soy products, including tofu and edamame
- dried fruits, such as dates and figs
- green leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach
- green beans
- nuts and seeds
- peanut butter
2. Increasing folate intake
If a person does not get enough folate their red blood cells will not be able to mature, which could lead to folate-deficiency anemia and low hemoglobin levels.
Good sources of folate include:
- black-eyed peas
- kidney beans
3. Maximizing iron absorption
Consuming iron in foods or supplements is important, but a person should also help their body to absorb that iron.
Foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, and leafy green vegetables, can boost the amount of iron absorbed. Taking a vitamin C supplement may also help.
Vitamin A and beta-carotene can aid the body in absorbing and using iron.
Foods rich in vitamin A include:
- sweet potatoes
- kale and collards
Foods high in beta-carotene include yellow, red, and orange fruits and vegetables, such as:
- sweet potatoes
While vitamin A supplements can help the body to process iron, the vitamin is dangerous if too much is consumed.
Excess vitamin A may lead to a condition known as hypervitaminosis A. This can cause symptoms such as bone and joint pain, severe headaches, and increased pressure within the brain.
4. Taking iron supplements
A doctor may advise a person with extremely low levels of hemoglobin to take iron supplements. The dosage will depend on a person's levels.
Supplements will cause levels of iron to increase gradually over a few weeks. A doctor may recommend taking the supplements for several months, to increase the body's iron stores.
Pregnancy may cause low hemoglobin levels.
A doctor will check for low hemoglobin with a blood test.
A person may have a low hemoglobin level for a variety of reasons, including:
- iron-deficiency anemia
- problems with the liver or kidneys
- chronic disease
It is possible to have naturally reduced hemoglobin levels without an underlying cause. Some may even have low hemoglobin and experience no symptoms or indications.
With a doctor's guidance, a person can boost their levels of hemoglobin to fall within a normal range. Normal ranges are:
Appropriate hemoglobin levels for children vary depending on age. Anyone concerned about a child's hemoglobin levels should speak with a doctor.
People with very low hemoglobin levels may need additional treatment if taking supplements and changing the diet do not show sufficient results.
Symptoms of extremely low levels of hemoglobin include:
- a fast or irregular heartbeat
- pale skin and gums
- muscle weakness
- frequent or unexplained bruising
- reoccurring headaches
Causes of low hemoglobin
Eating iron rich foods may help prevent low hemoglobin levels.
A person with low hemoglobin may have anemia. Common causes of anemia include:
- being deficient in iron, vitamin B-12, or folate
- substantial blood loss
- cancers that affect the bone marrow, such as leukemia
- kidney disease
- liver disease
- hypothyroidism, or a thyroid gland that does not produce enough hormones
- thalassemia, a hereditary disease that prevents hemoglobin from functioning properly
- sickle cell anemia, a genetic disorder that causes a reduction in red blood cells and hemoglobin
Low hemoglobin levels can also be caused by:
- lung disease
- excessive smoking
- extreme physical exercise
Many people can boost their hemoglobin levels with dietary changes and supplements. Speak with a doctor to determine the correct supplement dosage.
If hemoglobin levels remain low, a person may need further treatment, such as a blood transfusion.
Depending on the cause of low hemoglobin and the treatments attempted, it may take up to a year for levels to reach a healthy range.