Red blood cells are used by the blood to transport oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. These cells die every 120 days, and new cells are made to replace them. Without this constant cycle of cellular birth and rebirth, our tissues, bones and organs would not get adequate oxygen and would begin to deteriorate. It is important to nourish the body and keep the blood healthy. The following vitamins are important to both build the blood and support the immune system.
Red blood cells get their bright red color from hemoglobin, which contains the element iron. Iron is an essential blood builder, and necessary for oxygen transport. Natural sources of iron include eggs, chicken, red meats, organ meats, dark green leafy vegetables and beets. Individuals who are iron deficient will experience chronic fatigue, weakness and lower immune function and may appear pale and have dark circles under their eyes. Severe iron deficiency is called anemia. The recommended daily intake for iron is 10-15 mg, and 30 mg during pregnancy. When taking iron supplements, be sure to get enough vitamin C and B complex, as these are needed for the absorption of iron in the bloodstream.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, has a variety of uses in the body. It strengthens the immune system, assists in metabolism, helps wounds to heal and is utilized by the bones in the production of red blood cells. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, and therefore must be replenished often. Natural sources of vitamin C include most fruits and vegetables. Cooking depletes ascorbic acid levels in food. This is why it is so important to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables each day (3-5 servings of each). The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is 75-90 mg, although most adults can take up to 2 grams without adverse effects.
The B vitamins work together synergistically. This is why supplements often come in the form of B complex. Like vitamin C, they perform many functions throughout the body. They are used in metabolism, maintain the nervous system, used in the production of DNA and are necessary for the formation of red blood cells. They are also water-soluble vitamins, and should be taken with water. Natural sources of B vitamins include whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, dairy products and organ meats. The recommended daily intakes are: 1.1-1.3 mg of B1 and B2, 14-16 mg of B3, 5 mg of B5, 1.3-1.7 mg of B6, 400 mg of B9 and 2.4 - 2.6 mg of B12.
While taking vitamin and mineral supplements is important to combat deficiencies, caution should be used when taking them. Large quantities, or mega-doses, are not recommended. Excessive amounts of iron can cause hemosiderosis or hemochromatosis, where excess iron is stored in organs throughout the body. Large quantities of vitamin C may cause diarrhea, increased urination and headaches. Always consult your physician or health-care practitioner before taking vitamin or mineral supplements.