How Can You Increase Your Red Blood Cells?

Maintaining optimal levels is important for your health

If your red blood cell count is low, there are things you can do to increase it, like boosting your nutrition, taking supplements, and getting medical treatment for underlying health conditions. 

Your healthcare provider will recommend lifestyle changes and possibly medical treatments if you have a low red blood cell count. Getting your red blood cell count up can help with symptoms of low red blood cells like fatigue.

This article will cover why your red blood cell count might be low and how to increase red blood cells.

Symptoms of Low Red Blood Cell Count

Anemia is the medical word for when your red blood cell count is low. It can also mean that your red blood cells are the wrong size (too small or too big) or they are otherwise not healthy and working as they should be.

The signs and symptoms of low red blood cell count can be mild to severe. They may come on quickly or slowly over time, depending on how low your numbers are and your overall health. 

Common symptoms of low red blood cell count include: 

Severe anemia can cause fainting, shortness of breath, heart failure, and organ damage. If it goes on without treatment (e.g., because they have an undiagnosed condition that affects the red blood cells) or a person loses a lot of blood very fast (e.g., because they were badly hurt in an accident), not having enough red blood cells can lead to organ failure and death.

Causes of Low Red Blood Cell Count

There are many causes of a low red blood cell count. In most cases, the condition happens when your body is not making enough red blood cells or your red blood cells are getting used up or damaged.

Common causes of low red blood cell count include:

How to Get Your Red Blood Cell Count Checked

You can find out if you have a low red blood cell count by having a blood test. Your provider can do a complete blood count (CBC) to look at:

Increasing Red Blood Cells With Nutrition

One of the most common reasons for having a low red blood cell count is that you’re not getting proper nutrition. 

You might be able to raise your red blood cells back to normal by eating enough of the nutrients that you’re missing or taking a supplement. 

Nutrients That Increase Red Blood Cell Count

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

Folic acid helps your body make red blood cells. 

Dietary sources of folic acid include leafy green vegetables (like kale and spinach), beans, peanuts, liver, and seafood.


Iron is an important part of hemoglobin. 

Some dietary sources of iron are red meat, seafood, leafy green vegetables, and beans.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps the body make red blood cells. 

Some dietary sources of vitamin B12 are beef, chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs.

Vegetarians and vegans may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement.


Copper helps the body make hemoglobin. 

Dietary sources of copper include leafy green vegetables, nuts, mushrooms, organ meat (e.g., liver), and oysters.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps the body make red blood cells. 

Some dietary sources of vitamin A are carrots, potatoes, fish, liver, and leafy green vegetables.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps with iron metabolism, which is necessary for making hemoglobin.

Some dietary sources of vitamin C include tomatoes, citrus fruit (e.g., oranges), strawberries, broccoli, and leafy green vegetables.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E helps protect the red blood cells. 

Some dietary sources of vitamin E are almonds, pine nuts, avocado, and bell pepper.

What Happens When I Eat Extra Nutrients?

Eating more than the recommended amounts of key nutrients will not increase your red blood cell count higher than optimal levels. Your body will usually get rid of the excess nutrients it does not need or cannot use.

However, there are risks of getting too much of certain nutrients, whether through diet or supplements. In some cases, your body cannot get rid of the extra amounts, so a nutrient will build up to unsafe levels. For example, if you're trying to increase your iron intake to fend off anemia, you should know that getting too much iron can actually be dangerous.

You should talk to your provider about how much of each nutrient you should be getting each day, and what the best way to get them is for you.

Lifestyle Changes to Increase Your Red Blood Cell Count

Once you’ve made some changes to your diet and you're getting enough nutrition, there are some other lifestyle strategies you can use to increase your red blood cell count and keep it at a healthy level.

However, these strategies will only be effective if you are getting the nutrients that your body needs to make enough healthy red blood cells. That's why it's key to get your diet sorted out first.


Exercise encourages your body to make more red blood cells (erythropoiesis).

Your body normally breaks down red blood cells every three to four months, but it's also constantly making new ones that replace the ones that are lost.

Exercising may cause older red blood cells to break down and get recycled faster. 

However, the new red blood cells will be better able to carry oxygen than the older ones, so the natural process improves your health overall.

Reduce Alcohol

Drinking alcohol contributes to low red blood cells in a couple of ways:

  • Alcohol affects your body’s absorption of nutrients and can also affect red blood cell production.
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol for a long time can damage the liver and kidneys—two organs that need to be healthy for your body to make enough red blood cells. 

Supplements and Medications That Increase Your Red Blood Cell Count

There are some supplements and medications that can help raise red blood cell counts.

For example, people who are low in iron, vitamin B12, or another key nutrient may need to take supplements, especially if the nutritional deficiency is caused by an absorption problem or they can't get these nutrients through the foods they eat.

If you have an underlying health disorder that’s causing your red blood cells to be low, you will need to have it treated. 

For example, if you have a condition that causes bleeding (like an ulcer), making sure it heals so the bleeding stops can help keep your red blood cells from getting too low. 

If you have kidney disease, you might be prescribed a medication called erythropoietin—a natural hormone made by the kidneys that stimulate red blood cell production. 

In more serious cases, a blood transfusion is needed to get the red blood cells back up to levels high enough that a person can survive.

When to See a Provider

You should see your healthcare provider if you have any symptoms of low red blood cells. It may take some time for your provider to figure out what is causing your red blood cells to be low.

Sometimes, anemia is caused by medical problems that can become more serious and less treatable if they progress without treatment (like kidney disease or cancer).

You can get treatment to raise low red blood cells, and you can also get effective treatment for the underlying problem. 


Low red blood cells can be a sign of medical conditions that need treatment or lifestyle factors that need adjusting. 

You can raise your red blood cells back up to a normal, healthy level by making sure you’re getting enough of the nutrients that your body needs for healthy red blood cell production, exercising regularly, taking a supplement if your provider recommends it, and avoiding excess alcohol.

Additionally, if you have a health condition that’s lowering your red blood cells, you may need medical treatment to correct the problem. Managing the condition can help make sure your red blood cell count doesn’t drop too low again. 

A low red blood cell count is one of the signs of an underlying health problem. There are many causes and solutions. If you have a medical illness that’s causing you to have a reduced number of red blood cells, you will need treatment.

It’s also very important that you incorporate lifestyle habits that will help you maintain a healthy amount of red blood cells and that you keep up these habits for the long term to avoid a recurrence of anemia. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the quickest way to increase your red blood cells?

    If you are otherwise healthy, the most effective way to increase red blood cells is by avoiding alcohol and eating foods that provide the nutrients your body needs to make red blood cells.

    If your red blood cell count is very low, you may need medical treatments to increase your count such as erythropoietin or a blood transfusion. 

  • What foods should you avoid if your hemoglobin is low?

    If you have low red blood cells, avoid foods that are low in nutritional value because they can fill you up and prevent you from eating more nutrient-rich foods.

    Dairy products can also get in the way of iron absorption. While it is important to get the nutrients in dairy products, if you have iron deficiency anemia, your provider may tell you to eat dairy at a different time of day than you eat iron-rich foods to maximize your absorption of iron. 

  • What drinks are high in iron?

    The drinks that are high in iron include smoothies made with iron-rich foods, like kale or apples, or drinks that are fortified with iron. Some fruit and vegetable juices (e.g., beetroot) can be sources of iron. Just look for 100% juice with no added sugar.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.