Last Updated December 20th, 2021
What is hemoglobin and what are the normal ranges?
An important component of the red blood cells is a protein called hemoglobin. The main function of this protein is to transport oxygen to different parts of the body. It also plays another important role in transporting carbon dioxide from the cells to the lungs which are then exhaled out.
Due to these functions of hemoglobin, it is important to maintain adequate levels in our body. An underlying health condition can reduce the levels of hemoglobin and lead to several other complications. These levels can be easily regained by supplementing them through foods. In order to achieve this, it is important to have regular checkups with your doctor who can order suitable lab tests regularly.
What is the normal range of hemoglobin?
As a matter of fact, normal ranges of hemoglobin vary between men and women. In the case of men, a normal range is anywhere between 13.5-17.5 g/dL. Similarly, in the case of women, it is around 12-15.5 g/dL. In the case of children, the levels may vary depending on the age and hence this should be addressed by consulting your doctor. The level of hemoglobin is generally assessed by conducting a blood test. There are chances of having both high and low levels of hemoglobin. It is the low levels which is of actual concern and needs to be addressed immediately.
Symptoms associated with low hemoglobin levels
Some of the most common symptoms associated with low hemoglobin levels include:
- Frequent headaches.
- Racing or uneven heartbeat.
- Loss of color to the gums and skin.
- Low on energy.
- Easy bruising.
- Weakness in the muscles.
Side effects associated with low hemoglobin levels
A person having low hemoglobin level usually is because of reduced levels of iron in the body. This may occur due to an underlying health condition, malnutrition, or even due to malabsorption. The most common side effect of low hemoglobin level is anemia. There are different types of anemia and include:
This is a condition where there are reduced levels of iron stores in the body. This type of anemia is quite common among the general population. Loss of blood and malabsorption of iron are some of the causes of iron deficiency anemia.
This is generally a temporary phase of anemia where the requirement of iron generally increases during pregnancy. This usually subsides after childbirth and with adequate intake of iron-rich foods.
A reduction in the number of vitamin B12 in the blood can lead to anemia. Vitamin B12 is essential to absorb iron and hence reduction in vitamin B12 levels can cause reduced levels of iron, causing anemia. Reduced levels of vitamin B12 can cause a deficiency in red blood cells and make them lose their shape as well, which reduces the efficiency of red blood cells.
This is a medical condition where the bone marrow is attacked by the immune system resulting in reduced levels of red blood cell secretion. This leads to a condition called aplastic anemia.
This type of anemia is caused due to an underlying health condition as well as due to the hereditary transfer of genes. In this case, the red blood cells get broken down in the spleen or the bloodstream making them unstable.
Sickle cell anemia
Here, the shape of the red blood cell becomes sickle-shaped due to the abnormality of the hemoglobin protein. Due to this reason, there is difficulty in the passage of blood through the vessels. This condition is generally inherited and is usually rare.
How do I increase my hemoglobin levels
Add iron-rich foods to the diet
Since reduced iron levels are the main cause of low hemoglobin levels, it is important to add iron-rich foods into your diet in order to increase the iron levels. As the iron levels increase in the body, there would be a gradual increase in the levels of hemoglobin as well. Some of the iron-rich foods include red meat, eggs, fish, figs, tofu, broccoli, etc.
Add folate-rich foods to the diet
Another way to increase the levels of hemoglobin is by adding foods containing folate in it. Folate such as vitamin B12 is essential for the absorption of iron from the foods we eat. Reduction in the levels of folate reduces the capacity of iron absorption which can lead to reduced hemoglobin levels. It should be noted that red blood cells formed with decreased folate levels in the body generally are immature and hardly serve any purpose. Some of the folate-rich foods include legumes such as kidney beans, peanuts, spinach, lettuce, peas, avocados, as well as beef.
Increase iron-absorbing foods
Adding iron-rich foods to your diet is one aspect and adding foods that can help in the absorption of iron is another aspect. Both these foods need to go hand in hand so the adequate iron-containing foods are consumed and the foods helpful to absorb them help in utilizing them. Beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin C are the main components helpful in absorbing iron and using it correctly. Foods containing these components include sweet potatoes, fish, carrots, kale, cantaloupes, as well as mangoes.
Adding iron and vitamin supplements
Another simple and effective way of increasing the hemoglobin level is by consuming supplements. Generally, if the hemoglobin levels are low, your doctor would advise you to consume certain foods that can improve your hemoglobin levels. If the levels do not increase even after these measures, then your doctor would prescribe iron or vitamin supplements which can help improve the levels. Supplements are generally prescribed for oral consumption, but IM prescriptions for iron supplements are also available and can be ordered in case of extremely low levels. People consuming supplements need to get their levels thoroughly checked in order to avoid complications such as hemochromatosis due to increased iron levels. Similarly, increased vitamin A levels can cause hypervitaminosis and lead to joint pain and other complications.
Foods to increase hemoglobin levels
Adding appropriate amounts of the following foods such as meats, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seafood, and herbs can help improve your hemoglobin levels. These include:
- Liver – The most important components necessary for adequate production of hemoglobin such as iron, vitamin B12, and folate are present in lamb’s liver. In fact, it has the highest concentration of vitamin B12 than any other food. It has been estimated that around 85 mcg of vitamin B12, 400 mcg of folate, 10 mg of iron, and 13 mg of vitamin C is present in 100 grams of lamb’s liver.
- Beef – High concentration of iron is available from beef. Around 2 mg of iron can be obtained from 85 grams of beef.
- Chicken Breast – Provides a good source of iron. A 100 grams chicken breast provides 0.7 mg of iron.
Clams – Contains three important components such as iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin C necessary for the production of hemoglobin. Around 100 grams of clams provide 98 mcg of vitamin B12, 28 mg of iron and 22 mg of vitamin C.
Numerous legumes namely chickpeas, kidney beans, and soybeans are a good source of iron, folate, and vitamin C. It has been estimated that around 15 mg iron, 6 mg vitamin C, and folate 375 mcg can be obtained from 100 grams of legumes.
Grains and starches
Starches and grains are good sources of iron, but lack in vitamins and folate and hence do not top the list of iron-rich foods.
- Brown Rice – Provides around 0.5 mg of iron from 100 grams of rice.
- Whole Grains – Number of grains such as quinoa, barley, and oatmeal provide a rich source of iron which is around 2.5 mg from 100 grams of grains.
Fruits provide two important components such as iron and vitamin C that are required to fulfill the hemoglobin levels. Iron from the fruits helps directly to increase the hemoglobin levels whereas vitamin C helps in absorbing and utilizing them.
- Strawberries – This wonderful fruit provides around 0.4 mg of iron and 58 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams of strawberries.
- Prunes – They are rich in fiber and provide around 0.9 mg of iron per 100 grams.
- Apples – Apples may have only a small amount of iron content, but are filled with other nutrients that are vital for hemoglobin production.
- Pomegranate – They provide around 0.3 mg of iron per 100 grams, but contain other important nutrients such as protein, calcium, fiber, and carbohydrates.
- Tomatoes – Especially the sun-dried tomatoes provide around 9 mg of iron per 100 grams of tomatoes.
- Persimmons – This orange fruit can provide 2.5 mg of iron other than vitamin C, and powerful antioxidants essential for the body.
- Dry fruits – Various dry fruits such as dates, apricots, and raisins provide 0.8 mg of iron per 100 grams. They are also a rich source of fiber as well.
- Watermelon – Watermelons provide both food and water due to its consistency. It is widely known for its rich fiber content. It should be noted that it also provides around 0.2 mg of iron per 100 grams.
- Seaweed – This vegetable provides a high amount of iron and folate. Around 90 mcg of folate and 28 mg of iron can be obtained from 100 grams of seaweed.
- Broccoli – This cauliflower cousin is known to provide various nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium other than adequate amount of iron which is around 2.5 mg per 100 grams.
- Spinach – Majority of people agree with the goodness of this leafy vegetable. It provides lots of fiber as well as 4 mg of iron per 100 grams.
Various herbs such as parsley, thyme, cumin, as well as spearmint are spices that have iron present in them which can be added to our daily diet. Nettle leaf, in particular, can provide around 1.4 mg of iron per one cup.
Apart from the above-mentioned foods, there are other foods such as eggs, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and dark chocolate that provide a good amount of iron. Around 0.5 mg of iron can be obtained from an egg whereas 15 mg of iron can be obtained from pumpkin seeds per 100 grams. Similarly, 100 grams of dark chocolate provides 17 mg of iron and 3 mg of iron can be obtained from 30 grams of nuts.
There is no doubt that you need to maintain adequate levels of hemoglobin, but it is important to also note that the treatment part belongs to the doctor. It is always advised not to self treat your low hemoglobin levels which may lead to other complications. Since the levels need to be monitored regularly, it is important to consult your doctor in a timely manner.
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