Many women come to see me in clinic with iron deficiency anaemia. This post will discuss iron deficiency, and I will share some naturopathic tips on identifying and bouncing back from a deficiency.
Why is iron important?
Iron plays a role in energy production, detoxification, immune function, and helps maintain a healthy metabolism. Iron is essential for haemoglobin and red blood cells, which is why a blood test is so important if you suspect low iron (more on this later).
Iron deficiency is a depletion of the bodies iron stores, while iron deficiency anaemia is where the bodies stores are so depleted the red blood cells are affected, becoming smaller, fewer than normal or more pale in colour.
How do I know if I am iron deficient?
Symptoms of iron deficiency vary between individuals, but may include:
- feeling tired all the time, no matter how much sleep you get
- lack of focus and motivation, feeling irritable
- depressed mood
- increased anxiety
- brain fog, headache, weakness or dizziness
- heart palpitations, shortness of breath with little effort eg. when walking up stairs
- pale skin, brittle nails and thinning hair
- low libido, despite feeling like you should be interested
- recurrent infections: picking up every bug going around, or taking a long time to recover from illness
- tingling in arms and legs, or feeling like you need to move your legs when sitting still
Does this sound like you? Make an appointment with me in Caringbah or Surry Hills clinic today to get to the bottom of why your iron is low
Where do we get our iron from?
Iron is an essential mineral and must come from our diets. There are two types of iron we get in our diet:
This type of iron is very well absorbed from dietary intake. Haem iron is found in animal tissues, such as lamb, beef, chicken, fish, liver, oysters and eggs. Regular palm-sized portions of foods containing harm iron should help maintain good levels of stored iron.
This form of iron is from plants and found in vegetarian foods; spinach and other dark leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, almonds and dried fruits such as apricots. The absorption of non-haem iron is much lower, and is boosted by the presence of vitamin C.
How much iron do I need?
Menstruating women (or between ages 19-50) require 18mg of iron a day, pregnant ladies need 27mg, lactating women require 9mg, and women over 51 in menopause require 8mg a day. Better Health Channel has a great RDI guide found here.
Why is my iron low?
- Low dietary intake eg. poorly planned vegetarian or vegan diet, fad dieting
- Drinking coffee or tea with meals
- Heavy menstrual bleeding, having an IUD, or endometriosis
- Blood loss from trauma, or frequently donating blood
- Increased requirement – e.g. pregnancy, breastfeeding, adolescent growth spurts
- Digestive disorders – IBS, IBD, stomach ulcers or coeliac disease which impair your ability to absorb iron
- Parasites or dysbiosis (bad balance of gut bacteria)
- Exercise in a high volume (increase iron losses)
My tips for healthy iron stores
Eat a palm-sized serve of red meat 1-2 times a week. Bonus points for making it grass fed!
Combine vegetarian sources of iron with vitamin C containing foods. Here are some great iron rich vegetarian meal ideas:
- Sauteed kale with garlic and a squeeze of lemon
- Falafels with tabouli and sliced tomatoes
- Lentil and tomato soup
- Baby spinach salad with sliced strawberries and balsamic dressing
- 2-3 dried apricots and 2 Tbs raw almonds
Take a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses a day – this is an old and very useful naturopathic tip. Molasses is very rich in minerals, including iron, magnesium and B6. This is also a nice sweetener in baked goods along with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg!
Avoid eating dairy with your iron rich meals – the calcium interferes with iron absorption.
Use cast iron cookware. Cast iron boosts the iron content of all meals cooked in it. Whilst a bit pricey it will last a lifetime and is well worth the investment if you find that your iron stores are always on the lower side.
Add a teaspoon of spirulina to a smoothie or 1/2 a glass of fresh orange juice. Spirulina is an alkalising green powder rich in chlorophyll and iron.
Eat a large variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and protein sources.
I think I’m low in iron, now what?
If you suspect you are iron deficient it is important to get a blood test. This can be done through your GP and is normally covered by Medicare. Always get a print out of your results for your records.
If your results come back low make a booking with your naturopath to evaluate what’s missing in your diet, and how to best boost your iron stores and to prevent deficiency in the future.
Should I take an iron supplement?
It depends on the outcome of your blood test. Your GP or naturopath will help you make the right decision. Heres some tips on supplementing with iron:
- Look for a supplement containing around 20mg of iron di-glycinate or amino acid chelate per serve – this is the best absorbed form of iron and will have minimal or no side effects.
- Vitamin C helps absorption – often labelled as ascorbic acid in an iron supplement.
- Take your iron supplement first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. At least 30 minutes before eating is ideal.
- Take your iron with a glass of warm water with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, or 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar. The acid will improve absorption of your supplement. No coffee or tea at the same time as your supplement!
- If you are sensitive or have trouble with digestion try a liquid iron, these are very well tolerated.
- AVOID large doses of ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, ferric citrate, and ferric sulfate – these forms of iron are hard to absorb and often leads to side effects: black stools, constipation and nausea.
Do you suffer from fatigue? Is it possible that you, like many women, might not be getting enough iron in your diet? What steps can you take now, using the tips in this post, to get back your bounce?
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Wishing you the best in health,