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How to Increase Your Red Blood Cell Count

Anemia and red blood cell count

Are you feeling weak or fatigued? You may be experiencing symptoms of anemia. Anemia occurs when your red blood cell (RBC) count is low. If your RBC count is low, your body has to work harder to deliver oxygen throughout your body.

RBCs are the most common cells in human blood. The body produces millions each day. RBCs are produced in the bone marrow and circulate around the body for 120 days. Then, they go to the liver, which destroys them and recycles their cellular components.

Anemia can put you at risk for a number of complications, so it’s important to get your RBC levels back on track as soon as possible.

Keep reading to learn how to increase your RBCs at home, how your doctor can help, and more.

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Foods to eat

5 nutrients that increase red blood cell counts

Eating foods rich in these five nutrients can help you improve your red blood cell levels.

Iron

Eating an iron-rich diet can increase your body’s production of RBCs. Iron-rich foods include:

  • red meat, such as beef
  • organ meat, such as kidney and liver
  • dark, leafy, green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
  • dried fruits, such as prunes and raisins
  • beans
  • legumes
  • egg yolks

Folic acid

Adding certain B vitamins to your diet can also be beneficial. Foods high in vitamin B-9 (folic acid) include:

  • enriched breads
  • enriched cereals
  • dark, leafy, green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
  • beans
  • lentils
  • peas
  • nuts

Vitamin B-12

Foods high in vitamin B-12 include:

  • red meat, such as beef
  • fish
  • dairy products, such as milk and cheese
  • eggs

Copper

Copper intake doesn’t directly result in RBC production, but it can help your RBCs access the iron they need to replicate. Foods high in copper include:

  • poultry
  • shellfish
  • liver
  • beans
  • cherries
  • nuts

Vitamin A

Vitamin A (retinol) also supports RBC production in this manner. Foods rich in vitamin A include:

  • dark, leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
  • sweet potatoes
  • squash
  • carrots
  • red peppers
  • fruits, such as watermelon, grapefruit, and cantaloupe

Learn more: Why copper is good for you »

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Supplements to try

8 supplements that increase red blood cell counts

If you aren’t getting enough key nutrients through your diet, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking supplements. Certain supplements can help increase your RBC production or support related processes in your body.

Some supplements can interact with medications that you may be taking, so be sure to get your doctor’s approval before adding them to your regimen.

Never take more than the recommended dosage found on the product’s label.

Supplements your doctor may suggest include:

Iron: Iron deficiency commonly causes low RBC production. Women need about 18 milligrams (mg) per day, whereas men only need 8 mg per day.

Vitamin C: This vitamin may help your body better absorb iron. The average adult needs about 500 mg per day.

Copper: There may also be a link between low RBC production and copper deficiency. Women need 18 mg per day, and men need 8 mg per day. However, your daily copper requirement depends on a variety of factors, including sex, age, and body weight. Be sure to consult your doctor or a dietitian to understand how much you need.

Vitamin A (retinol): Women need 700 micrograms (mcg) per day. For men, the recommendation increases to 900 mcg.

Vitamin B-12: Most people who are 14 years and older need 2.4 mcg of this vitamin per day. If you’re pregnant, the recommended dosage raises to 2.6 mcg. If you’re breastfeeding, it jumps to 2.8 mcg.

Vitamin B-9 (folic acid): The average person needs between 100 and 250 mcg per day. If you regularly menstruate, it’s recommended that you take 400 mcg. Women who are pregnant need 600 mcg per day.

Vitamin B-6: Women need about 1.5 mg of this nutrient each day, and men need about 1.7 mg.

Vitamin E: The average adult needs about 15 mg per day.

Learn more: The benefits of vitamin E »

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Other lifestyle changes

Other lifestyle changes

If you’re eating a healthy diet and taking supplements, you’re off to a great start. Keep up this balanced approach by cutting back on or eliminating alcoholic beverages. Excessive drinking may lower your RBC count. For women, this is defined as more than one drink in one day. For men, this is more than two drinks in one day.

Regular exercise is also beneficial. In addition to promoting overall wellness, exercise is key to RBC production. Vigorous exercise causes your body to need more oxygen. When you need more oxygen, your brain signals your body to create more RBCs.

Your best bets for vigorous workouts include:

  • jogging
  • running
  • swimming

Check out: 3 ways to prevent anemia in pregnancy »

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Treatment options

How your doctor can help

In some cases, changes in diet or lifestyle alone aren’t enough alone to increase your RBC count to healthy levels. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:

Medication to treat an underlying condition: If your RBC deficiency is caused by an underlying condition, such as hemorrhaging or a genetic disorder, medication may be necessary. Treating the underlying condition may help your RBC count return to normal.

Medication to stimulate RBC production: A hormone called erythropoietin is produced in the kidneys and liver and stimulates the bone marrow to produce RBCs. Erythropoietin can be used as a treatment for some forms of anemia. This treatment may be prescribed for anemia caused by kidney disease, chemotherapy, cancer, and other factors.

Blood transfusion: If medications aren’t working, your doctor may recommend a blood transfusion to boost your RBCs.

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Takeaway

The bottom line

Red blood cells are important to your body. If your doctor suspects your red blood cell count is off, they will order a complete RBC count to check your levels. If you’re diagnosed with a low count, your doctor may recommend a combination of dietary changes, daily supplements, and medications to return it to normal.

Learn more: Anemia »

  • What should my red blood cell count be?
  • Normal RBC counts range from 4.7 to 6.1 million cells per microliter (mcL) for men and 4.2 to 5.4 million cells per mcL for women. These ranges can vary depending on the testing lab. They also may vary from person to person based on many factors.

    Higher than normal RBCs may be caused by cigarette smoking, heart problems, and dehydration. They can also be caused by problems with your kidneys, bone marrow, or breathing. Living in a high altitude may also increase your RBC count.

    Lower than normal numbers of RBCs may occur with bleeding, bone marrow failure, malnutrition, kidney disease, overhydration, or pregnancy. Several drugs affect the level of RBCs and may make it higher or lower than normal.

    - Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COI
  • Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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