Red blood cell (RBC) production (erythropoiesis) takes place in the bone marrow under the control of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO). Juxtaglomerular cells in the kidney produce erythropoietin in response to decreased oxygen delivery (as in anemia or hypoxia) or increased levels of androgens. In addition to erythropoietin, red blood cell production requires adequate supplies of substrates, mainly iron Iron Deficiency Iron (Fe) is a component of hemoglobin, myoglobin, and many enzymes in the body. Heme iron is contained mainly in animal products. It is absorbed much better than nonheme iron (eg, in plants... read more , vitamin B12 Vitamin B12 Deficiency Dietary vitamin B12 deficiency usually results from inadequate absorption, but deficiency can develop in vegans who do not take vitamin supplements. Deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia, damage... read more , folate Folate Deficiency Folate deficiency is common. It may result from inadequate intake, malabsorption, or use of various drugs. Deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia (indistinguishable from that due to vitamin... read more , and heme Overview of Porphyrias Porphyrias are rare disorders in which there are defects in the pathway of heme synthesis due to genetic or acquired deficiencies of enzymes of the heme biosynthetic pathway. These deficiencies... read more .
RBCs survive about 120 days. They then lose their cell membranes and are largely cleared from the circulation by the phagocytic cells of the spleen and liver. Hemoglobin is broken down primarily by the heme oxygenase system with conservation (and subsequent reutilization) of iron, degradation of heme to bilirubin through a series of enzymatic steps, and reutilization of amino acids. Maintenance of a steady number of RBCs requires daily renewal of 1/120 of the cells; immature RBCs (reticulocytes) are continually released and constitute 0.5 to 1.5% of the peripheral RBC population.
With aging, hemoglobin and hematocrit (Hct) decrease slightly, but not below normal values. In menstruating women, the most common cause of lower RBC levels is iron deficiency due to chronic blood loss resulting from menstruation.