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Iron is Your Oxygen Tank

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Why is iron important?  

Like all nutrients, iron has many roles in the body.  However, the most important one is that of transporting oxygen from the lungs to all the other tissues in the rest of the body.  Of course, oxygen is the most important substance of all as without it (for even a couple of minutes) we would not survive.  So it make sense that the vehicle that transports our precious oxygen would also play a key role in our health.  

Common symptoms of low iron include:1

  • Fatigue/exhaustion, even when sleep is adequate
  • Pale skin (this can include not only the face, but also the gum tissue, pink part under the eyeball, etc.)
  • Feeling weak
  • Dizziness/lightheaded
  • Cold hands/feet
  • Dry, brittle nails
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hair loss

What if your iron is low?

It is important to verify this with blood work to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms… But if you know for sure that you have low iron or iron-associated anemia, there are lots of nutritional steps that you can take to support your best health.

Common causes of low iron can include low dietary intake (not eating enough iron-rich foods), bleeding (heavy menses or other internal bleeding), poor digestion/absorption and chronic inflammation.2

How much do you need?

How much iron that you need depends greatly on your gender, age and stage of life as well as your current dietary pattern.  Below are the Recommended Daily Allowances.  As you have likely heard me mention in the past, the RDA’s are low standards for most people; however, I do use them to some degree because they are at least A STANDARD and, sadly, many people aren’t even meeting these levels.  These should be considered minimum requirements for most people.

3

Many people believe that you need to eat meat to get iron.  This is NOT true.  Non-heme iron (iron from plant sources) are often not as completely absorbed as heme iron…  but this is actually no problem.  It just means that you may need a bit more and you also may want to optimize absorption (which is a great thing to do anyway…).

Some of the best plant sources include:

  • Lentils
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Beans
  • Edamame
  • Peas
  • Seeds (flax, hemp, pepitos)
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Dark chocolate
  • Thyme
  • Cereal grasses (oat grass, wheat grass, etc.)

4 ways to increase iron absorption:

  1. Eat iron rich foods with vitamin C rich foods (citrus, peppers, kiwi, spinach, cabbage, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, etc.).4
  2. Cook in cast iron pans.5
  3. If you drink beverages containing polyphenols such as coffee or tea, do so away from meals as they can hinder iron absorption.  Polyphenols are health promoting plant chemicals.  They are not bad but you do want to consume them away from your iron-rich foods or supplements.6
  4. Sprout or soak (or at least rinse) your nuts, seeds and whole grains in order to reduce phytates and make the iron easier to utilize by your body.7  

The good news is that the plants rich in iron are also rich in LOTS of other micronutrients that your body needs anyway, so eating more whole food plant sources of iron will likely mean that you’re eating a healthier diet overall.  It is estimated that you may need closer to 1.8 times the RDA if you’re using plant-only sources (so for example 14mg instead of 8mg/day).

What about supplements?

First, it’s important to understand why your iron is low to begin with. Then you can consider to both supplement and eat in a way to support that appropriate change.  

For example, if you eat tons of iron rich foods, don’t have heavy periods, and still have low iron, you may have digestive distress and need digestive support such as Digest or Phyto-zymes, along with HCL to improve your levels.  This is important so that you’re supplementing in a way that is both cost-effective and to target the real issue.  

As another example, if you have heavy periods, even though you may be consuming iron-rich foods, this is the symptom you really want to address.  Why are you experiencing heavy periods?  Is there a hormone imbalance?  Or more likely, some congestion in the liver?  Etc. Figuring out what is really going on can take some work but it’s by far the best and perhaps ONLY way to achieve radiant health in the long term.

For some great iron supporting supplements… (Dosages vary depending on the person, condition, body size, etc.)

*When iron is low, it is also prudent to check B12 and folate as well. (And if needed, consider B12, Max B or Complete B for supplemental support.)

If you are confused by your blood work or aren’t quite sure how to navigate your health challenges on your own, I’d love to help you!  Feel free to reach out to the clinic to schedule your consultation.  Also, if you know of anyone who has low iron I’d be honored if you’d share this information in hopes to help them feel SO much better!

References:

1. Lopez A, Cacoub P, Macdougall IC, Peyrin-Biroulet L. Iron deficiency anaemia. In: The Lancet. ; 2016. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60865-0

2. Al-Naseem A, Sallam A, Choudhury S, Thachil J. Iron deficiency without anaemia: A diagnosis that matters. Clin Med J R Coll Physicians London. 2021. doi:10.7861/CLINMED.2020-0582

3. National Institutes for Health. Iron: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements.

4. Hurrell R, Egli I. Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.28674F

5. Alves C, Saleh A, Alaofè H. Iron-containing cookware for the reduction of iron deficiency anemia among children and females of reproductive age in low- And middle-income countries: A systematic review. PLoS One. 2019. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0221094

6. Hurrell RF, Reddy M, Cook JD. Inhibition of non-haem iron absorption in man by polyphenolic-containing beverages. Br J Nutr. 1999. doi:10.1017/s0007114599000537

7. Gupta RK, Gangoliya SS, Singh NK. Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains. J Food Sci Technol. 2015. doi:10.1007/s13197-013-0978-y

Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease.  It does not take the place of a health care practitioner.  It is for educational purposes only.