Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) are indicators of your hemoglobin levels. Low MCHC and MCH levels are a sign of anemia, often caused by an iron deficiency, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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Low MCHC and MCH levels could indicate an iron deficiency, which would mean that you need to include more iron in your diet and maybe even take iron supplements, per your doctor’s prescription.
What Are MCH and MCHC?
MCH and MCHC are red blood cell indices are red blood cell indices, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Here's what that means.
The American Society of Hematology (ASH) explains that your red blood cells are bright red cells that make up about 40 to 45 percent of your blood volume; the rest is plasma, platelets and white blood cells.
Shaped like doughnuts, red blood cells contain a special protein, known as hemoglobin, that transports oxygen. In fact, the reason your blood looks red is because your red blood cells, which get their red color from hemoglobin, are the most abundant cells in your blood.
Your red blood cells carry hemoglobin and oxygen from your lungs to the cells in the rest of your body. The carbon dioxide from your cells is carried back to your lungs, so that it can be excreted when you breathe out.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that MCHC and MCH blood tests are part of the complete blood count (CBC) tests, which are conducted using a blood sample. These tests are conducted to determine whether you have anemia, a condition marked by too few red blood cells.
MCH is the amount of hemoglobin in each blood cell and MCHC is the hemoglobin concentration per red blood cell, or the amount of hemoglobin relative to the size of the red blood cell. A third index that is usually checked along with MCHC and MCH blood tests is mean corpus volume (MCV), which measures the average size of your red blood cells.
MCHC and MCH Blood Tests
The U.S. National Library of Medicine puts normal levels of MCH between 27 and 31 picograms per cell. MCHS's normal range is between 320 and 360 grams per liter. The normal range for MCV is between 80 and 100 femtoliter.
Abnormal MCH, MCHC and MCV levels are indicative of health problems, explains Lab Tests Online, a nonprofit organization that provides information on pathology tests. For instance, anemia caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency can result in elevated MCV levels, where your red blood cells are larger than usual. This is accompanied by elevated MCH levels, because large red blood cells have more hemoglobin than usual.
On the other hand, iron deficiency anemia and thalassemia result in lower MCV levels, where your red blood cells are smaller than usual. This is accompanied by lower MCH levels, since small red blood cells have less hemoglobin than regular red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia and thalassemia are also marked by low MCHC levels, where the concentration of hemoglobin in your red blood cells is low.
According to the National Institutes of Health, thalassemia is a rare hereditary blood disorder that is passed down through families, where the body is unable to produce enough hemoglobin. This results in a shortage of red blood cells and lower levels of oxygen in the bloodstream, leading to a number of health problems.
A more common explanation for low MCHC and MCH levels is iron deficiency anemia. Your doctor will be able to help you determine if your low MCHC and MCH levels are due to iron deficiency anemia.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
The ASH explains that iron is a critical mineral for the production of hemoglobin, which is why deficiencies of this nutrient result in anemia. A small fraction of the iron from the food you eat is absorbed in your digestive tract; the rest is stored in your liver and released as required, to make new red blood cells. Your body is constantly making new red blood cells, because they have a lifespan of only 120 days.
Iron deficiency is common, according to the ASH, especially among women and people who don't get enough iron in their diet. Menstruating women and pregnant and breastfeeding women are among the groups at higher risk for iron deficiency anemia. Other groups include vegans and vegetarians, people with gastrointestinal conditions like celiac disease and Crohn's disease and people who donate blood frequently.
Read more: What Is a Normal Iron Level for a Woman?
The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include pale or sallow skin, lack of energy, breathlessness and chest pain, rapid heartbeat, weakness, headaches, cravings for ice, brittle nails and loss of hair.
Nutritional Significance of Anemia
Per the ASH, an iron-rich diet can help you increase your iron intake. Some of the foods that are good sources of iron are pork, beef, lamb, chicken, duck, turkey, sardines, shellfish, anchovies, kale, broccoli, collard greens, turnip greens, peas, pinto beans, Lima beans, black-eyed peas and enriched rice, grains, cereals and pasta. Among meats, dark meats and liver meats are the best sources of iron.
According to the ASH, you will probably have to take iron supplements if you have iron deficiency anemia until your iron levels are replenished and the deficiency is corrected. If the cause of the deficiency is unknown and it cannot be corrected, you may have to take iron supplements on an ongoing basis.
The amount of iron you would need to correct an iron deficiency is higher than the amount in most multivitamin supplements. The ASH states that the amount you need will likely be between 150 and 200 milligrams of elemental iron per day and that there is no evidence that any one type of iron liquid, pill or salt is better than the others.
Read more: The Best Way to Take Iron Pills
Vitamin C helps improve iron absorption, so your doctor may prescribe 250 milligrams of vitamin C to be taken along with your iron supplement. Iron supplements shouldn't be taken two hours before or four hours after you take an antacid.