The Importance of Iron: What You Need to Know Before Donating Blood



Donating blood can have a huge effect on athletic performance and overall health.

While it is encouraged to donate blood to help those in need, it should likely be discouraged among athletes, especially female ones. Few know about the detrimental and long-lasting effects donating blood can cause, as it results in iron levels being lowered and therefore ruins athletic performance. Not only can the lack of iron levels in the body cause a person to feel horribly lethargic, but it makes for the slow and cruel demise of an athlete’s dreams.
To clarify, iron is a part of hemoglobin and an essential mineral found in the foods we eat. Iron helps the body make new red blood cells, which carry oxygen, and which are lost when blood is donated. So, in simple terms, if you lose iron, you lose your ability to take in as much oxygen. That doesn’t sound too great, right? Especially not for athletes. Even more unfortunate, the effects of the lack of iron in the body is a relatively new discovery and therefore is not made known among aspiring athletes.
In real life, what happens is this: For example, in most of the cases regarding this problem, it deals with runners, as runners obviously have to take in tons of oxygen in order to function. When low iron begins to tax the body, the runner suddenly feels as if they have to work much harder than normal to carry out normally easy tasks. Breathing becomes heavier, fatigue takes over. In extreme cases, fainting can happen. The runner becomes colder more easily. But perhaps the most obvious effects of low iron are bestowed when the runner tries to race. The runner, despite ability, is unable to go fast, no matter how hard they try. Because their body is not able to take in enough oxygen, their body cannot replenish itself. Their body hits a wall that continues to get thicker if the problem is left untreated. The problem is, it usually takes more than eating healthy to fix it. Many times, the issue requires taking supplements or even getting an infusion.
The reason this issue affects prominently girls is due to their menstrual cycle, but also because it has been speculated that girls do not take in iron as well as boys in general, and simply seem to lose it faster for whatever reason. Not much is known about this issue in relation to athletes yet, but more and more research is continuing to come out. If you’d like more scientific information, check out this link, this link, or even this one! (It’s more geared towards sports).
With all this being said, what about the Red Cross blood drive coming up and all the ones thereafter? The Red Cross blood drive at FHS in happening on November 8th, sponsored by HOSA, from 7:30 AM to 1:45 PM. If students want to help out, sign-up sheets are outside Mrs. Kelly’s room. To donate blood, one needs to be at least sixteen with parental consent.
Mrs. Kelly, when asked about how long she has organized the school blood drive, said she has been doing so for two years with Nurse Govereau. The blood drive itself at FHS has been going on annually for around 20 years!
Mrs. McIntyre, the main teacher of the BioMed program and leader of HOSA, said this about the effects of low ferritin/iron in students, especially female athletes: “Yes, I’ve heard of it. Honestly, the issue is predominantly with cross country or distance runners.”
When asked if she thinks the information about low iron levels needs to be more openly shared, especially among athletes, she said: “Yes. I talked with Nurse Govereau about how girls will go and find their levels were fine at the time, but after they donated blood they became really low, especially in females.” She then went on, “I hope to incorporate iron issues in the BioMed program, because it’s something I feel is important to address. Most of my students are females, too.”
If you want to find out your iron levels, go to a local lab and get a blood test done! Make sure you ask to see your ferritin level results, because they are the proteins in the body in which store iron. Even if your results come back as “normal,” as an athlete, your levels may actually be too low. See a doctor that specializes in this field to make sure you’re healthy!
All in all, iron issues are a bigger deal than you may realize! While it is wonderful to help those in need by donating to the Red Cross blood drive, (such as on November 8th), be sure to be aware of your ferritin levels so you don’t deplete yourself, especially to those teen athletes out there!