Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, so this article does not substitute a doctor's visit. I was also consulted by a physician before treatment, so please do not experiment on your own.
Earlier this year I had a blood test done that revealed pretty low iron levels. I was diagnosed with Iron Deficiency Anemia. Finally I had an explanation why I always felt so tired and weak almost every day. After doing some research and speaking to a physician I decided to tackle this problem with a long-term approach. Iron deficiency Anemia is a common condition, so I thought it would be useful to share my journey with you - from being diagnosed to finding the right treatment. Hopefully you’ll find some of my tips helpful. Here is what I did!
First things first: What is Iron Deficiency Anemia?
Iron Deficiency Anemia is a condition, where you have a low amount of red blood cells or not enough hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin is a protein, which gives the blood its red color and helps the red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron Deficiency Anemia often causes fatigue, pale skin and weakness, all symptoms that I experienced. Depending on the case of anemia, treatment is relatively easy and it improves your quality of life immensely! Of course, there are more severe cases that require a more intense medical treatment, this is why a doctor’s visit is important.
Iron Deficiency Anemia and Periods - The two that go together so often
Heavy periods can cause Iron Deficiency Anemia, but so can other conditions. During pregnancy, the body has a higher demand for blood and therefore iron levels are naturally lower while pregnant. That’s why it is paramount that the cause of your anemia is determined before you start treatment. Menstruators are at greater risk of getting Iron Deficiency Anemia simply due to their periods, especially when they are heavy. In fact, over 460 Million non-pregnant women worldwide suffer from Iron Deficiency Anemia which makes it the population with the highest number of anemic people. (If you put the numbers in relation: South America’s population is 422.5 million).
How do I know if I have Iron Deficiency Anemia
First step is to do some research and look into the topic with further detail. If you experience some of the typical symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia such as intense fatigue and weakness, or pagophagia (to enjoy chewing on ice) and an irregular heartbeat, one of the very first things you should do is to get a blood test done and consult your doctor.
How to keep your iron levels up when you’re anemic
I believe that a diet based treatment is the way to go for many health related issues. Though in this case, as a person who only scarcely consumes meat with heavy flow periods, I felt like I needed a little help.
Find a support group and exchange experiences
I entered a support group on Facebook to see how other people experience Iron Deficiency Anemia and how they cope. You can find lots of useful information in there and simply being in this group with so many other people sharing their experiences is a huge support.
Iron Supplements for Iron Deficiency Anemia
The doctor recommended a liquid iron supplementation since iron pills can be hard to digest. I finally opted for this vegan iron supplement. I take it twice a day, after breakfast and after dinner, as recommended. The iron in it is derived from berries and it is really sweet and tasty with no sugar added. It also has vitamin C added, which helps to absorb iron.
What food to eat if you have Iron Deficiency Anemia
Regarding your diet there are a few things to keep in mind: phytates (e.g. in legumes and cereals), polyphenols (e.g. in coffee and wine), calcium and some proteins (e.g. soy and milk proteins) are iron inhibitors, whereas ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C) and muscle tissue (meat, fish, poultry) are enhancers of iron absorption. Make sure to always include vitamin C (e.g. citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers) and/or some muscle tissue meat in high iron inhibitor meals. There are two types of dietary iron: Heme iron (found in animal foods) and nonheme iron (found in plant based foods). Top heme iron rich foods are liver, seafood, beef and fish. Along with some vitamin C they are the best option for an anemic person.
But what about a vegan and vegetarian diet?
Don’t worry! If combined smartly, you should have no problems absorbing enough iron. Leafy greens (e.g. kale, broccoli, cabbage, spinach) are high in nonheme iron and other vegan foods as well: almonds and cashews, sprouted beans and seeds, dried fruit etc. A vegan supplementation (like the one I use) helps you even further in keeping your iron levels up.
Further natural treatment for Iron Deficiency Anemia
In the Facebook group I also read that using a cast-iron skillet for cooking can help you manage your iron levels, plus they last for a long time. Similar to this, but a little cuter is my next discovery...
What is this cute little fish?In the Facebook support group, somebody posted about the Lucky Iron Fish and I immediately wondered: “What is this cute little fish?” Browsing their website I found that their philosophy really resonated with mine for these specific reasons:
- Reusable with daily use for up to 5 years
- Cheaper than supplementation
- Buy One Give One program
- A B-Corp and Social business
Much like our little Ruby Cup… So, of course, I was sold! :)
Here’s how the Lucky Iron Fish works: The Lucky Iron Fish should be added daily for 10 minutes into your cooking or you can boil 1 litre of water for 10 minutes with 1-2 drops of lemon juice to make iron-rich drinking water and slowly but steadily you supply your body with the iron you need. Check out their website for more info! I was so fascinated and impressed by the company and their mission so I contacted them. We had a lovely conversation which I would like to share with you: “Like Ruby Cup, Lucky Iron Fish is committed to improving the lives of women and girls. We believe that a business can and should help to solve some of the world’s greatest social challenges. Ruby Cup's actions and values clearly demonstrate that business can be a force for good.” - Tania Framst, vice president of operations, Lucky Iron Fish Last but not least, don’t forget to check out their recipe tank full of iron-rich recipes and creative ways of how to include the lucky fish in your daily cooking.