Natural Treatment for Low Iron and Anemia
Anemia and low iron are something I see a lot with my clients, especially the ladies. Low iron stores or iron deficiency anemia is tied to a host of symptoms, including fatigue, pallor, irregular heartbeat and cognitive issues or “brain fog”.
More and more frequently I am hearing from people that they have been told by their doctor they have low iron levels or anemia and have been instructed to take a supplement. Although iron supplements can be useful for building iron stores and reversing deficiencies, often times the underlying cause of anemia isn’t identified and corrected. It’s important to understand why your iron is low in the first place so that you don’t have an ongoing issue with iron deficiency. Also, if you’re low in iron, there’s a chance you are deficient in other nutrients as well. There are many causes of low iron, including low dietary intake, blood loss from heavy periods, Celiac disease, to malabsorption issues. In otherwise healthy adults, low iron levels are often due to to digestion. For many people — particularly if you eat meat — the solution is not necessarily more iron but making better use of the iron that you are eating.
If you have been told you have anemia or low iron I recommend you start with restoring digestion and improving absorption of dietary iron with these strategies:
Chew your food. This basic first step of digestion is often overlooked in our fast paced world. Chewing food helps physically break it down, and starts the production of saliva and digestive juices required to break down your food. You need to chew food thoroughly for optimum digestion and absorption of nutrients, including iron.
Supplement with digestive enzymes containing HCl (hydrochloric acid) to help break down and digest food. Many people are low on stomach acid and can benefit from a supplement. Acidity in the stomach is required for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients such as iron. Start with taking 1–2 tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar in 2 oz of water a few minutes before your meals, and consider adding a digestive supplement if you have signs of an under-active stomach.
Limit phytates and tannins. Both phytates, found in grains and legumes, and tannins found in tea can bind with iron and limit it’s absorption. If you are dealing with low iron, you may want to limit your intake of dietary phytates and tannins, or time their consumption away from iron rich foods.
Repair digestion. Increased intestinal permeability, known as “leaky gut” inhibits proper absorption of nutrients, including iron. Eating a whole foods based anti-inflammatory diet rich in vegetables, omega-3 fats and quality protein is an excellent foundation for good digestion. If you are suffering from other symptoms or conditions besides anemia, consider working with a Nutritionist for a customized plan to optimize your digestion.
Boost your Vitamin C. Taking a Vitamin C supplement or consuming Vitamin C rich foods with your meals helps with iron absorption. Some additional C is also good for the immune system and since it’s not stored in the body it’s very safe to take. Try taking Vitamin C with your larger meals or with iron supplements if you’re using them.
Cook in cast iron: Using cast iron cookware gives a modest boost to the iron content of the food being prepared. Although I wouldn’t recommend this as your only strategy, any small increase helps and cast iron doesn’t have the potentially dangerous chemicals of non-stick cookware.
Include animal protein: Iron isn’t a particularly well absorbed nutrient, and vegetarian sources (non-heme iron) are even less so. It’s estimated that we absorb about 5% of non-heme iron and about 25% of heme iron (animal sources). Although you don’t need to eat a steak every day, if you are having issues with low iron it is important to include some animal protein in your diet, preferably from some good quality red meat.
If you have ongoing issues with low iron, or low iron in conjunction with other chronic symptoms, you may want to consider working with your doctor, naturopathic doctor and/or nutritionist on eliminating potential causes of poor absorption such as celiac disease, food intolerances and other sources of chronic inflammation. Anemia can be a symptom of an underlying condition, especially in the presence of adequate dietary intake.