Blood consists of red and white blood cells, platelets and plasma -- the liquid component in the blood. Concerns about ways to increase blood in the body are typically referring to the plasma and red blood cells, as these make up the largest part of the blood. If the plasma part of your blood is low -- a condition called hypovolemia -- fluids, not food, is the treatment. A deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin -- the protein within red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body -- is called anemia. While certain foods may help increase red blood cell counts or hemoglobin, the underlying cause of anemia needs to be diagnosed by a doctor. In addition to diet, prescription supplements may be needed to treat your anemia.
Iron and Vitamin C
The body needs iron to make hemoglobin. A deficiency in iron can develop from poor iron intake, decreased gut absorption of iron, excessive bleeding or increased iron demand -- as in pregnancy. In order to treat iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend iron supplements and iron-rich foods such as:
- red meat, chicken, pork and seafood
- dark leafy vegetables, including spinach
- beans and lentils
- iron-fortified cereals
Your doctor may also recommend an increase in dietary vitamin C to help iron absorption. Vitamin C-rich foods include:
- red or green peppers
- kiwi fruit
- citrus fruits, such as oranges and tangerines
Vitamin B12 is needed for red blood cells to grow and mature properly. Vitamin B12 deficiency may result from a lack of dietary vitamin B12, which is found in meat, seafood, eggs, dairy products and fortified cereals or breads. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also result from an autoimmune condition called pernicious anemia that limits the body's ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food. In addition to dietary changes, prescription vitamin B12 supplements or shots are needed to treat vitamin B12 deficiency.
Like vitamin B12, your body needs folate to make normal red blood cells. Pregnancy, certain anti-seizure medications, alcohol abuse and celiac disease can lower folate levels in the body. Rich sources of folate, a B vitamin, include:
- spinach and other leafy green vegetables
- asparagus and Brussels sprouts
- beef liver
- dried beans
- fortified breads, cereals and pasta
Plasma is made up mostly of water. A decrease in plasma may be caused by blood loss, diarrhea, vomiting, other medical conditions and side effects of medications. Fluids, not food, are needed to treat blood plasma loss. If hypovolemia is severe, you will need fluids or blood given through a vein. If the plasma loss is mild -- as in the case of dehydration from diarrhea -- drinking fluids by mouth may be sufficient.
Warnings and Precautions
Anemia and hypovolemia need to be evaluated by your doctor. If you think you may have anemia, see your doctor. While mild anemia may cause no symptoms, you may experience tiredness or pale skin. As anemia becomes more severe, the symptoms usually worsen. Warning signs that warrant immediate medical care include bright red blood in your stool, black stools, chest pain, trouble breathing or feeling faint.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD