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 about 120 days. Then, they go to the liver and spleen, which destroy them and recycle their cellular components.

Anemia can put you at risk of a number of complications, so it’s important to see a doctor or healthcare professional if you’re experiencing symptoms. If you’re diagnosed with anemia, a doctor will provide a treatment plan to help you get your RBC levels back on track as soon as possible.

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

Your body needs certain key nutrients to make RBCs. Meeting your daily requirements for these nutrients supports your body’s RBC production. However, it doesn’t guarantee a higher RBC count.

Anemia has many causes, and treatments for anemia will be different based on what’s causing it. Many causes of anemia aren’t related to your eating habits.

As part of your overall treatment plan, consider talking with a doctor or dietitian to make sure your diet meets the recommended intake for these nutrients:

Iron

Iron is essential for the production of RBCs. Iron-rich foods include:

  • lean meat
  • seafood
  • poultry
  • iron-fortified breads and cereals
  • nuts
  • beans
  • lentils
  • raisins

Folic acid

Getting enough B vitamins in your diet may also be beneficial. Foods high in vitamin B9 (folic acid) include:

  • enriched breads and cereals
  • spinach
  • liver
  • brussels sprouts
  • asparagus

Vitamin B12

Foods high in vitamin B12 include:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • dairy products such as milk and cheese
  • eggs
  • fortified products such as cereals and nutritional yeasts

Copper

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

  • shellfish
  • liver and other organ meats
  • whole grain products
  • wheat bran cereals
  • chocolate
  • nuts
  • seeds

Vitamin A

Vitamin A (retinol) also helps iron get to your RBCs. Foods rich in vitamin A include:

  • fish
  • eggs
  • liver
  • dairy products
  • leafy green vegetables
  • orange and yellow vegetables
  • tomato products

Learn more: Why copper is good for you »

If you’re not getting enough key nutrients through your diet, talk with a doctor about taking supplements. Certain supplements may help increase your RBC production or support related processes in your body.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, treatment for some types of anemia may include prescription supplements for iron and vitamin B12. A doctor will discuss this with you based on your specific situation.

Some supplements can interact with medications that you may be taking, so be sure to get a doctor’s approval before adding any to your regimen. It’s also important to know that your recommended allowance for some nutrients may change during pregnancy or while breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

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

Supplements a doctor may suggest include:

Iron: Iron deficiency commonly causes low RBC production. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for females ages 19 to 50 is 18 milligrams (mg) per day. For males ages 19 to 50, the RDA is only 8 mg per day.

Vitamin C: This vitamin may help your body better absorb iron. The RDA for vitamin C is 90 mg for males and 75 mg for females ages 19 and older.

Copper: There may also be a link between low RBC production and copper deficiency. For adults ages 19 and older, the RDA for copper is 900 micrograms (mcg) per day.

Vitamin A (retinol): For females ages 19 and older, the RDA for vitamin A is 700 mcg per day. For males ages 19 and older, the RDA increases to 900 mcg.

Vitamin B12: The RDA for people ages 14 and older is 2.4 mcg of this vitamin per day.

Vitamin B9 (folate): For people ages 14 and older, the RDA for folate is 400 mcg of dietary folate equivalents (DFEs). The DFE measurement is used because folate supplements are absorbed differently than food sources. Talk with a doctor or dietitian to make sure you’re getting the right amount.

Vitamin B6: This vitamin plays an important role in synthesizing one of the proteins contained in RBCs. The RDA for adults ages 19 to 50 is 1.3 mg for vitamin B6.

Vitamin E: For people ages 14 and older, the RDA is 15 mg per day. Vitamin E may help protect blood cells from damage.

Learn more: The benefits of vitamin E »

If you’re eating a health-promoting diet and taking any supplements a doctor has prescribed, you’re off to a great start. Other lifestyle changes may also support your RBC levels.

Keep in mind that these strategies aren’t a replacement for medical treatments. It’s also important to discuss any major lifestyle changes with a doctor first.

People who drink alcohol should consider cutting back on or eliminating alcoholic beverages. Heavy alcohol use is known to raise your risk of anemia.

Regular exercise may also be beneficial. An older 2012 study indicated that exercise could increase RBCs, but there’s not enough evidence to know whether this approach is safe and effective.

Vigorous exercise could be helpful because it causes your body to need more oxygen. When you need more oxygen, your brain signals your body to create more RBCs. However, this approach may not be appropriate for everyone with anemia. It’s best to talk with a doctor to find out what’s right for you.

Some options for vigorous workouts include:

  • jogging
  • running
  • swimming

Check out: 3 ways to prevent anemia in pregnancy »

In some cases, changes in diet or lifestyle alone aren’t enough alone to increase your RBC count to healthy levels. A 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 an autoimmune disease, 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, and other factors.

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

Blood or bone marrow transplant: This procedure can replace faulty stem cells that are causing problems with RBC production. The transplant introduces healthy cells to replace the faulty ones.

Surgery: If anemia is related to issues with bleeding, surgery may be needed.

RBCs are important to your body. If a doctor suspects your RBC count is off, they’ll order a complete RBC count to check your levels.

If you’re diagnosed with a low count, a doctor may recommend a combination of prescription supplements, medications, or other treatments to return it to normal.

Learn more: Anemia »