Let's Talk About Iron

It seems like so many of the friends and clients I talk to lately tell me they have low iron levels or have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia. What is iron deficiency anemia? It is the most common type of anemia and it occurs when the body doesn’t have enough of the mineral iron to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that allows our red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body and without adequate levels, we cannot function optimally. You may be suffering from iron deficiency anemia and not even know it.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include:

  • Fatigue (the deeply exhausted type)

  • Lack of focus or difficulty concentrating

  • Pale or dull skin

  • Muscle weakness or heavy-feeling limbs 

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fast heartbeat, chest pain

  • Dizzyness, lightheadedness or headaches

  • Cold hands and feet, inability to stay warm

  • Low mood

  • Brittle nails

What are the risk factors for iron deficiency anemia:

  • A poorly balanced diet lacking proper nutrients

  • A vegan or vegetarian diet

  • Malabsorption (due to poor digestion, celiac disease or other bowel conditions)

  • Increased demands (pregnancy, lactation, extreme physical activity)

  • Parasites

  • A heavy or long menstrual cycle

  • Blood loss, usually in the GI tract (for example ulcers or hemorrhoids)

  • Donating blood

  • Low stomach acid, use of antacids (stomach acid is required for the body to properly access iron)

  • High stress (chronic stress decreases stomach acid)

How to treat iron deficiency anemia:

If you’ve been diagnosed with iron deficiency, the first step is to treat the root cause. It’s extremely important to rule out low stomach acid, parasites and especially blood loss. You can take all the supplements in the world, but if you never address the reason why you’re deficient in the first place then you’ll never solve the problem and get your iron levels to where they need to be.

To increase iron absorption naturally, ensure that you’re eating a minimally-processed, whole foods diet with a variety of colours and nutrients. Emphasize foods that are naturally high in iron and other blood building nutrients including:

  • Lentils and legumes

  • Dark leafy greens (especially spinach and swiss chard)

  • Beets and beet greens

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Leeks

  • Animal products (especially red meat and organ meats)

Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron so cooking with foods such as lemon juice or tomatoes can greatly increase your absorption. Another way to increase iron absorption through cooking is by using a cast iron pan. These tips are especially helpful for those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet as the form of iron in plant foods (non-heme) is harder for the body to absorb than the form of iron found in animal products (heme).

Taking the right supplements:

Many people struggle with taking iron supplements because they’re hard on the stomach and commonly cause nausea and constipation. For this reason, doctors often recommend taking an iron supplement with a little bit of food. Iron supplements however, are best absorbed on an empty stomach so taking them with food will decrease the absorption of your supplement which is what you’re trying to avoid.

This is why the iron supplement I recommend is MegaFood’s Blood Builder. MegaFood is one of my favourite supplement brands because they source their products from non-GMO, whole food ingredients. What does this mean? It means that these supplements are more real and pure as opposed to synthetic, lab-made supplements - giving your body exactly what it needs in the ideal, most absorbable form. Because it’s sourced from these whole food ingredients, Blood Builder is extra gentle on the stomach, meaning no more nausea or constipation when you take your iron supplement! Blood Builder also contains other nutrients essential for building blood like folate and vitamin B12, as well as vitamin C to improve absorption. Blood Builder is clinically proven to significantly improve iron levels. For more inspiration and information from MegaFood Canada, check them out on Instagram

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*Note: Some food constituents such as the phytic acid found in many whole grains and the tannins from coffee and black tea can bind to iron in the gut and inhibit absorption. This is something to be mindful of when taking iron supplements and another reason why they’re best taken on their own. Furthermore, calcium and iron are shown to compete for absorption, therefore also avoid taking iron supplements with dairy products or any form of calcium supplementation.

**Disclaimer: This post is not to be substituted for medical advice. Always have your iron levels checked by your doctor before supplementing.