Bring up the Numbers
If you’re considering donating plasma, or if you are a current donor and have been “deferred” due to low hematocrit (Ht or HCT) or protein levels, here are some helpful hints that I’ve learned during my 5 years as a plasma donor.
First off, we’ll look at your low hematocrit level. What is hematocrit? Simply put, it’s the volume of red blood cells within your blood. The total volume of your hematocrit will depend on the number of red blood cells and the size of those red blood cells.
If you’ve had a low hematocrit level, this is due to a low red blood cell volume. The best way to increase this number is to increase your iron intake. Something as simple as taking an iron supplement may be enough to boost your levels enough to qualify for your next donation, however, if you’re like me, I needed to alter my diet to bring my levels up enough. Here are a few neat facts I’ve learned over the years about increasing hematocrit levels:
- Your body needs vitamin C to absorb iron
- Exposure to sunlight may give your body the vitamin D it needs, but it also depletes your vitamin C levels, therefore, reducing your body’s ability to absorb iron
What are good sources of iron? Here are the top 10 iron-rich foods:
- Red meat (wild game such as elk and deer has a higher level of iron than beef, but emu is even higher than elk or deer)
- Egg yolks
- Dark, leafy greens such as spinach (remember Popeye) and collards
- Dried fruit like prunes and raisins
- Iron-enriched cereals and grains, be sure to check the label
- Mollusks; oysters, clams, and scallops
- Turkey or chicken giblets
- Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans
I’ve found that some protein bars are also high in iron. This is great if you also have a low protein count. Check the labels; you may be surprised. You’ll want to combine one or more of the iron-rich foods above with a good vitamin C source as well.
Here are some foods high in vitamin C:
- Bell peppers (yellow, green, and red)
- Brussels sprouts
- Oranges and orange juice (juice has higher levels)
- Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (pink or white, again juice has higher levels)
Keep in mind that these are just the top sources. You can take a supplement of either, but I’ve found that consuming them in food form produces better results. Also, check out the labels of some fruit and vegetable juices for their vitamin C content. One of my favorites is the V-8 Splash. It offers a good amount of vitamin C, and I don’t have to choke down brussels sprouts.
If you have a low protein level you’ll want to start incorporating some of these high protein foods into your diet:
- Cheese (in moderation on the day of your donation as it will make your plasma cloudy and thicker
- Beans (soybeans, lentils, kidney beans), the larger and more mature, the higher the protein levels
- Lean veal and beef (once again, wild game has higher levels of protein, and emu offers even more than the others)
- Roasted pumpkin, squash, and watermelon seeds
- Lean meats (chicken, lamb, pork, turkey)
- Fish (tuna, anchovies, salmon)
- Fish eggs (roe and caviar)
- Yeast extract spread (marmite)
- Lobster and crab
- Lentils, pulses, and peanuts
It’s been my personal experience, that consuming these high-iron and high-protein diets the day before my plasma donation gave me the best results, the morning of or too far ahead of time will not be as effective.
I hope these little tips for low hematocrit and protein levels help get your levels within the acceptable range, and your donation process goes smoothly.
More Information About Plasma Donation
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a low white blood cell count. I’ve been tested for bone cancer, but everything’s normal. Is there anything I can do to improve my white blood cells?
Answer: Other than medication prescribed by your doctor, I don't believe so. This is something best discussed with them.
Question: How do you bring down blood pressure prior to donating?
Answer: Lowering your intake of sodium (salt), alcohol, caffeine, along with regular exercise may help, but if not, you may need prescription medication to lower your blood pressure enough to donate.
ChristinaBryant37 on July 11, 2019:
I am also a low iron gal. I try every day the night before donation and on day.
Like today - i ate a bowl of fruit flavored oatmeal and collard greens have been drinking water and just now some cran pomegran juice.
Last night tacos water home made pineapple icecream.
I drink water daily
I take iron vitamins.
And im going to donate at 6 today
camarochix72 (author) from USA on September 08, 2018:
It has been my experience, as someone who has had low iron my entire life, that eating the iron-rich foods with either foods or drinks that are high in vitamin C for better absorption gives the best results.
Emily on September 06, 2018:
I also suffer from low irons levels. Would taking iron supplements and iron rich foods the day before donating would be more beneficial?
camarochix72 (author) from USA on June 08, 2018:
Your numbers must be within the "normal" range for each:
Iron - Men 13.5 to 17.5g/dL
Women 12.0 to 15.5g/dL
Protein - Between 6 and 8.3
I honestly don't remember if the protein range varies from male/female and by age. But this is the general range that is acceptable.
Melisha on June 06, 2018:
What are the required levels for iron and protein to donate plasma?
camarochix72 (author) from USA on October 24, 2017:
Good luck, Barbara! I hope it works for you.
Barbara on October 23, 2017:
just wanted to thank you an, the pepole who wrote comments it was very helpful also, helpful to know im not the only one who couldnt donate because of low iron. will try your tips an let ya know how it goes. Good luck to all
Braxton on October 12, 2017:
Thanks for the Recipes
camarochix72 (author) from USA on August 17, 2017:
If I understand the Atkins diet correctly, it's more about limiting the carb intake than anything. Eating eggs is good! Unless you're vegetarian, you may need to add in more meats (totally acceptable within the Atkins program) to increase your protein levels such as: chicken, turkey, pork and beef are good sources of protein. You can also use seafood meats like salmon, tuna, prawns and crab. Just keep in mind that your body can only absorb about 1 to 10 grams of protein per hour, so spreading them out during the day (like you're doing now) is best. Also, not sure if this applies to your situation, but drinking alcohol can prevent your body from absorbing the protein like it should.
Jeanine Smith on August 16, 2017:
My problem has been my protein levels are just making it or too low to donate, I'm on the atkins diet I eat 2 eggs every day eat peanuts throughout the day and drink protein shakes. What else can I do? Very frustrated
camarochix72 (author) from USA on July 14, 2017:
Thank you Nina! I really appreciate your kind words.
Taylormg1996@gmail.com on July 11, 2017:
Wow thank you. No wonder my gums have been sore, I walk outside with my shot off all day. Vitamin D has depleted my vitamin C. Makes sense now.
angie on June 24, 2017:
thank u for the helpful advice i donated once now my iron is low again very frustrating i keep tryin
camarochix72 (author) from USA on April 24, 2017:
Don't get too discouraged, I had the exact same issue. When you eat your iron rich foods, try adding a drink that's high in vitamin C to it. The vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron in the foods you eat. The ones that worked best for me were the ones that had at least 100% of the daily vitamin C (check the label). Ocean Spray Cran-Apple was one I drank frequently.
Melissa on April 23, 2017:
I have been donating for over a year niw. I am getting tired of being told my hematocrit is low one day. Then two days later it went from 36 to 42. That doesnt make sense to me. I eat raisin, peanut butter, everyday.
camarochix72 (author) from USA on September 30, 2016:
The center I donated in never had a test for "water volume". I don't know if that's something new, but if that's their way of testing how hydrated you are, then drinking plenty of water throughout the day, every day, not just the days of your donation should bring that up.
Jennifer on September 29, 2016:
I went to donate tonight and they said my water volume was 35 and that it has to be between 38 and 53. Any tips to make that higher?
Lab tech 30 years on September 16, 2016:
"If you have a low protein level you’ll want to start incorporating some of these high protein foods into your diet:
Watch out for this, especially in the hours immediately before donation. Cheese is also a source of fat which can cause your plasma to be lipemic or "visibly fatty". Lipemia can be a cause for rejection because it clogs the filters on the pheresis machine and can slow the donation to a standstill. If they can't get your red cells back into your vein, you can get deferred or 6 weeks! So no cheese, cheeseburgers, fried foods, greasy potatoes, milkshakes, etc.
Also, drinking plenty of water is great but maybe not immediately before your donation. It can dilute your Hematocrit and Total Protein levels.
camarochix72 (author) from USA on August 25, 2016:
If your user name is part of a question... Then any juice that has at least 100% vitamin C helped me. I am naturally borderline anemic (very low iron) and the juice I drank with my Snickers Protein Bar always had at least 100% vitamin C to help with the high iron that's offered in that particular protein bar. Just read the nutrition label and find a juice flavor that's to your liking.
Your breakfast of oatmeal and toast with peanut butter is awesome!
What I lack is a list of juices U can drink to enhance my Donation on August 23, 2016:
This so very True, I eat Oatmeal with Honey & raisins & 2 slices of wheat bread with peanut butter.
camarochix72 (author) from USA on August 20, 2016:
Adding a vitamin C rich drink will help your body absorb the iron in the foods you eat and the supplements you take. I always liked cranapple Ocean Spray. It's high in vitamin C (I always looked for over 100% vitamin C on the label) and helped with my iron numbers tremendously. Also, try to limit the amount of time you're in the sun the day before your donation, although the sun gives you the much needed vitamin D, it also depletes your body's vitamin C levels, and that makes it harder for your body to absorb the iron.
Jan on August 20, 2016:
I've been trying to donate plasma for the past 5 weeks. I've only been able to donate twice. My iron levels are to low. I'm at 36 when it needs to be at 38 or higher. I do take an iron supplement and I eat iron rich foods but that just doesn't seem to be enough. What else can I do?
camarochix72 (author) from USA on August 08, 2016:
Not sure why they would suddenly need to do a blood test, unless the random testing that's done to the plasma (at least at the center where I donated they did this), showed something a little "off" with your donation.
The reason you can't donate for an extended period of time is because, first, they have to wait for the results of whatever tests they are running to come back, and depending on the amount of blood they took for the test, they typically treat it like a blood donation and you have to wait the full 8 weeks before being able to donate again (to give your body the time it needs to recover from blood donation). They would do the same thing if you were in the middle of a donation and had to stop before your red blood cells were returned to you.
Tony hernandez on August 04, 2016:
I was donating on a regular basis and all of a sudden They told Me they needed a tube if blood and I couldn't donate til July 16 so I go back when told and now they still won't let me donate why is that
shpongles on July 11, 2016:
.........Good luck having too low of a hematocrit. It's actually defined as "the ratio of the volume of red blood cells to the total volume of blood." It's basically you're hydration levels, am I right? It's a plasma to blood ratio(and whatever else exists in there IDK)...
I'm trying to figure it out myself, for my own niche blog ;) No really though, I donate plasma and I'd love to be able to lower my hematocrit. My understanding is that your red blood cell count is measured by a test called an RCB Count, or Red Blood Cell Count.
Here's a good way to donate faster... Hydrate like a good human every day. Eat carb heavy 3 hours before and hydrate good. Go for low sodium of course.... Exercise before donating, so you can just jog-walk around for 15 minutes, just keep the heart rate high. And go for coconut and olive oil, I have no idea if that actually works, I'll try it next time!
Can't wait to learn how to write articles!
Angela Hernandez on April 25, 2016:
Thank you so much for this informatiom. Last week I tried donating plasma but was denied because my levels were too low. I came onine to figure out what that means and your article has helped answer all my questions:)