If you're a regular blood donor in Canada, you might not be able to donate as often. Canadian Blood Services announced today it's changing guidelines for donor iron levels.

The agency said in a statement the change is needed to "further promote health and wellness among blood donors," as well as to ensure that recipients receive quality red blood cells. 

Iron is an essential element the body requires to produce hemoglobin, the protein found in red blood cells that's responsible for transporting oxygen to tissues in the body.

Different rules for men and women

Beginning Dec. 10, female donors will need to wait 12 weeks between blood donations to allow iron levels to recover. The current waiting period is eight weeks.

Blood donor

New guidelines will allow men to donate as often as before but with higher requirements for their blood hemoglobin levels. (Daniel Beauparlant/CBC)

Male donors will be able to donate as often as before — every 56 days — but they'll need to pass a slightly stricter hemoglobin test. The minimum allowable hemoglobin level for male donors will increase from 125 grams per litre, to 130 grams per litre. That change will go into effect next March.

Iron is crucial for producing hemoglobin, but its also found in other parts of the body. It's possible to have normal hemoglobin levels, but to have low iron stores overall, says Canadian Blood Services (CBS).

'Female donors should allow more time to pass between donations to prevent low iron stores.' - Ross FitzGerald, Canadian Blood Services

"Males are different physiologically and our most recent study shows male donors can maintain safe levels of iron when donating following the current guidelines of every 56 days," says Ross FitzGerald, communications specialist for CBS. "However, the results also show that female donors should allow more time to pass between donations to prevent low iron stores, which is why we've changed the maximum number of donations specifically for females to four times a year, or every 84 days."

Before giving blood, every potential donor must pass a finger-prick test that measures if hemoglobin levels are sufficient, says FitzGerald.

Donors wanted

The new iron guidelines mean more donors are needed.

"Many donors will not be able to donate as often, so others must step forward to fill this gap by giving blood and encouraging friends and family to make giving a part of their lives," says Mark Donnison, vice-president of donor relations at the CBS.

In Ontario alone, 6,000 new blood donors are needed, says the CBS.