Q. You recently answered a question from a vegetarian blood donor who has trouble with low hemoglobin. He was concerned about caffeinated beverages.

I too am a vegetarian and donate blood every 56 days. I do not consume caffeine at all, but my iron level has been, at times, too low to donate.

I was told that tea (even herbal and decaf) robs your body of iron, so a week before I donate blood, I stop drinking any tea. Since I started doing that, I have not had a problem with my iron level.

For a hot drink before donating, your reader could try a tablespoonful of blackstrap molasses in hot water. It doesn’t taste good, but it'll warm him up and provide iron.

A. Thanks for the recommendation on blackstrap molasses. This does make an iron-rich hot beverage.

Caffeine doesn’t matter when it comes to iron, but many kinds of hot drinks have tannins and polyphenols that can interfere with iron absorption. Tea is rich in these compounds, but coffee and cocoa can also hinder iron absorption. So can herbal teas made from peppermint or chamomile (British Journal of Nutrition, April, 1999).

Join Over 52,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

  1. juan
    Reply

    i have an alpha thalassemia disease. i take exjade to lower my iron(ferritin)level. i stop taking my medicine for about three months, in the same period i had a few cups of coffee a day. my iron level dropped more by me drinking coffee than taking the medicine. i need to know if coffee can help me more than my medicine(exjade). i take 2000ml a day
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: BOTH COFFEE AND TEA CAN INTERFERE WITH IRON ABSORPTION AND MAY BE HELPFUL FOR PEOPLE WITH THALASSEMIA LEADING TO IRON OVERLOAD. WE DON’T KNOW HOW THEY COMPARE TO YOUR MEDICATION.

  2. becky malloy
    Reply

    People who are chronically anemic, or have osteoporosis or certain other vitamin deficiencies often times write into sites like this looking for solutions to the problem they experience. Sometimes these deficiencies are considered ‘the problem’ when they are the symptom of another invisible disease. I believe that People’s Pharmacy has addressed the issue of celiac disease in the past, possibly several times. But at this time doctors are missing the diagnoses more than they are hitting it with American patients. Celiac can be a silent cause of issues such as anemia, bone loss and osteoporosis, and other conditions related to poor absorption of vitamins and minerals. But often the first condition to be identified (such as chronic anemia) is treated, but celiac is never suspected as an underlying cause. The University of Chicago quotes estimates that an estimated 1 out of 133 people that may have celiac disease in our country and yet only 1 out of 4700 are diagnosed with it. Until our medical system becomes more efficient at diagnosing celiac, we need to keep everyone aware of celiac in regard to conditions that may be related to celiac. Many people with celiac are struggling with various nutritional disorders such as anemia, and osteoporosis. I have seven in my family with celiac and I know how hard, if not impossible it is to get a diagnosis. Even with a family history of celiac it took me 20 years to get a diagnosis, and that diagnosis was only achieved when I gave up trying to convince doctors in my area to test me and my daughter and drove six hours away to UMD where they were doing research on celiac disease. Both my daughter and I were positive both on the blood test and the biopsy. I encourage and plead with ‘People’s Pharmacy’ to continue increasing awareness of this silent disease as it may relate to so many other seemingly unexplained medical issues that people struggle with. For more information you can look into http://www.uchospitials.edu/specialties/celiac or celiac.com.

  3. A Guy
    Reply

    I too am anemic & love my iced tea. However, I’ve read that if you DON’T SQUEEZE the bags, you won’t release the tannins, which, of course, reduce iron aborption & are quite bitter. It seems to work for me!

  4. Yvonne Townsley
    Reply

    My husband has been extremely anemic in the past (with very low energy) and still has trouble with iron absorption, it seems – his iron levels are notoriously low. He is a very heavy tea drinker! Not usually hot tea, though. We heard such good things about the prognosis for tea drinkers – but I wonder if it is interfering with his iron levels?

What Do You Think?

Share your thoughts with others, but be mindful of protecting your own and others' privacy. Not all comments will be posted. Advice from web visitors is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. In posting a comment, you agree to our commenting policy and website terms and conditions.