New Research Shows Iron Deficiency May Not Significantly Affect Donor Health, Blood Quality

September 14, 2022

Donor iron deficiency was associated with no harmful effects on either the quality of donated blood or the wellbeing of frequent blood donors, according to new findings published recently in Blood. Previous studies have suggested that 35% of regular blood donors may become iron deficient after repeated blood donations, but few studies have evaluated the effects on donor health or on the quality of donated blood.

In the Donor Iron Deficiency Study, investigators screened 983 frequent blood donors aged 18 to 75 to identify iron deficient but non-anemic donors. A total of 79 eligible participants completed a standard blood donation and questionnaires about their physical and mental health and quality of life, followed by a 51-chromium post-transfusion red cell recovery study.

Investigators randomized participants to receive intravenous iron repletion (one-gram low molecular weight iron dextran, 39 participants) or placebo (saline solution, 40 participants). After 4-6 months, participants completed a second standard blood donation, questionnaire, and red cell recovery study. The primary outcome was within-subject change in post-transfusion recovery.

Findings indicated that red cell storage quality was unchanged by iron repletion. The mean change in post-transfusion recovery was 1.6% and -0.4% with and without iron, respectively. Additionally, iron repletion did not affect any cognition or wellbeing measures; the placebo group’s scores on both cognitive function tests and quality-of-life measures showed no significant differences at any time point from donors in the iron repletion group.

According to Eldad A. Hod, MD, an associate professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, a National Blood Foundation Hall of Fame member, and the study’s first author, the findings demonstrate that existing criteria for blood donation both preserve the quality of the blood supply and protect the wellbeing of adults who are frequent blood donors.

“This finding is good news because it not only shows that blood donated by frequent donors remains of high quality, but also that those who donate blood regularly are not being significantly harmed by doing so,” Hod said.

One limitation of the study’s findings is that people younger than age 18 were excluded from participation. Adolescents need iron for brain development, a process that isn’t complete until they reach their mid-20s, Hod said. “We don’t know to what extent our results can be generalized to the under-18 population,” he said. “We hope to look at this age group in our next study.”