Frequent Blood Donations and Injury Recovery

I’m currently reading Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield and although I don’t think I’m the target audience for the book (endurance athletes) or agree with a lot of what he writes, I did land on a gem of an idea.

Ben writes about how endurance athletes can deplete their iron levels through high levels of training and this could cause injuries or slow their recovery. A quick search confirms all this information, as well as the fact athletes, require more iron than the general population. I’m no longer an endurance athlete, so why should I care?

With a few exceptions, I’ve been donating a pint of blood every 8 weeks for 9 years. In the past year, I have either hit the lowest iron level possible to donate or I’ve been turned away for being just under. In my quest to get my 5-gallon pin for the state of Washington, I have been “studying for the test”, by eating sunflower seeds and orange juice for a few days prior, just to bump up my iron levels for the test.

Note that my iron levels are not low. They are just a bit too low to donate. About two years ago the iron level required to donate was increased here in Seattle. Not to help the recipient of the blood, but so the person donating is still healthy after donating a pint.

I started actively donating blood not only to help others but to help myself. Now, I may have pushed it too far. As of now, I’m going to reduce my blood donations from 6.5 a year to 2. I’ll also make more of an effort to pair iron-rich foods with Vitamin C rich foods. If bumping up my iron levels helps me recover faster, that would be great. It is worth a try.

Has anyone had experience with increasing iron levels to increase recovery times or reduce injuries?


Frequent Blood Donations and Cold Intolerance

I want to give a hat tip to Chuck, who in the comments of my last post, asked me if my frequent blood donations have had an effect on my cold tolerance. That question rattled me, because I have noticed a gradual decline in my cold tolerance each winter – with this year being the worst since 2007-2008.

The winter of 2007-2008 was my first winter in the Seattle area after living in San Diego since 2000. And boy did I feel cold. At the time I assumed 100% of the reason was because I became a temperature wimp in sunny SoCal. But there may have been a second reason. At that time I was still rarely eating red meat. My diet was probably low in iron.

By the time the winter of 2008 arrived, I not only began cold exposure training, but I also fully embraced red meat as a regular component of my diet. I started throwing heat. I still believe the majority of the benefit I got was from teaching my body how to generate more heat via cold exposure, but now it seems there may have been a dietary component.

A quick search on Iron and Cold Tolerance will pull up pages of results. They mostly state that having a low iron level can increase cold intolerance and cause one to feel tired frequently. The thyroid needs sufficient iron levels to do its job.

Last winter felt colder to me than normal. This winter felt even colder.

What else has changed beside my frequent blood donation? I’ve been eating a Peasant Diet which is much lower in red meat. Also as a result of feeling cold and tired more frequently, I’ve been drinking even more coffee. Coffee can reduce iron absorption by 50%.

Interestingly, my body temperature remained up at 98.4-98.6. This contradiction made me seek out a doctor to test my thyroid. He told me my TSH of 2.0 was fine and that I probably just had poor circulation. No other ideas were put forth.


So in my quest to donate blood to reduce my iron levels, it appears I overshot the target. As of today I am going to:

  1. Stop donating blood for at least 6 months.
  2. Increase red meat consumption.
  3. Pair foods higher in iron with foods higher in Vitamin C to increase absorption.
  4. Reduce coffee intake.

Last week I began reducing coffee and felt so lethargic. More than any other time before. Now I think I have an explanation. I’ll do a follow up a post if my cold symptoms are corrected. Thank you Chuck!

I Won Blood Donation

In 2010, I posted The Selfish Case For Donating Blood. In that post I mention the health benefits one gets from reducing the iron level in your blood. So beginning in December 2010 – a full year after returning from my trip to Cambodia – I began to donate blood regularly.

Every 8 weeks. Like clockwork.

Only during my 13 months in California was there any interruptions. And while I was there I donated double red blood cells twice. So for all practical purposes, for 6 years I was a regular donor. Each time purging my blood of iron.

During those years I read some great articles on the health benefits of reducing Iron levels by Anthony Colpo. I’d love to link to those articles now, but they are now only available for paid members. (Side note: I went to see how much a Membership would be and the sign up page is empty. His server is also not secure. Goodbye!) 

Last December I was ready to hit a milestone. I was one donation away from receiving my 4 Gallon Pin. But I was turned away, because my Iron levels were too low. That had never happened before. Not unhealthy low, but too low to donate. They assured me I was still in a healthy range. I was on the edge.

I returned a few days later to try again. I really wanted that pin. And although I bumped my Iron level up a little, I was still just outside the range. Turned away again.

For 2 weeks I ate sunflower seeds and lamb and beef. Then I returned and my Iron level was finally high enough to donate. I collected my 4 Gallon Pin and this time instead of scheduling an appointment for 8 weeks, I pushed it out to 11 weeks.

Today was my first donation since collecting my 4 Gallon Pin and guess what? My Iron levels are too low to donate. Still in a healthy range, but just a little too low for their needs.

Being turned away 3 out of the last 4 times was a bummer at first, but really it is a good thing. I did exactly what I intended. I purged my blood of the oxidative stress. My blood is baby fresh and clean. And if I did my research correctly, I extended my lifespan by a few years. Oh yeah and I probably helped a few people along the way.

I won. I won at blood donation. Now I will go into a maintenance donation schedule. Maybe twice a year.

If you are a non-vegan male, donating blood is a no-brainer way to improve your health and the health of whoever gets your blood.