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Do you remember the TV commercials for liquid iron supplements? They asked the all-important question “Do you suffer from iron poor blood?” It seemed back then that all ‘housewives’ were destined to a life of fatigue and listlessness. Approximately 20 per cent of all women are anemic. Men have lower rates.
Lack of red blood cells and/or lack of iron in those red blood cells can result in the diagnosis of anemia. There are other types of anemia that happen when red blood cells cannot do their work effectively because of their shape or fragility.
Each red blood cell is supposed to have four molecules of a very complex protein called hemoglobin. Each hemoglobin molecule has an iron molecule at its center. It is this iron molecule that specifically is charged (both in responsibility and electrically) to carry oxygen, and it is the oxygen that provides the catalyst for the breaking down of carbohydrates into energy within the cells. So, if there are not enough red blood cells and/or iron there cannot be enough oxygen circulating in the body, and symptoms will result. The most common symptoms of anemia are fatigue, tiredness, heart palpitations, breathlessness with little or no exertion, problems concentrating, irritability, headaches, dizziness, fainting spells, pale skin, pale mucous membranes, dry skin, brittle nails, hair loss, lowered immune response, and cool sensations. All of these symptoms can be indicators of other problems.
Normal blood test readings should be between 120g/L and 160g/L for women, and between 140g/L and 180g/L for men.
Types of Anemia
Hemolytic anemia is the result of the spleen being too efficient. Red blood cells generally last about 120 days each. As the cells age it is the responsibility of the spleen and liver to select the older, more worn out ones, break them down, and recycle reusable parts. If the spleen goes ‘batty’ and starts pulling out red blood cells that are not worn out it causes at least three problems. The first is anemia. The second is liver stress from having to deal with the excess of bilirubin being released from the increased number of blood cells that are being broken down. The third is the spleen itself becomes inflamed from working too hard. If hemolytic anemia is the problem there can be a few extra symptoms beyond normal anemia. They include jaundice (which is most easily seen in the whites of the eyes going yellow) and pain in the upper left abdomen from the spleen being inflamed.
There are several types of hemolytic anemia wherein the red blood cells are deformed and usually more brittle. The most common are thalassemia, spherocystosis, and sickle-cell. Other causes of hemolytic anemia can include toxins, medications, and autoimmune disorders that affect the body’s handling of the blood cells, and being too athletic.
Yet another common type of anemia is megaloblastic anemia and a subtype of this is pernicious anemia. A deficiency of vitamin B12, due to a lack of the enzyme needed to absorb B12, inhibits the production of red blood cells. Because B12 is also important for the health of the nerve sheaths a deficiency of this vitamin can lead to restlessness, tingling or numbness in the legs, burning in the tongue, stomach aches, and loss of appetite. Other causes of megaloblastic anemia include liver disease, Crohn’s and celiac disease, folic acid deficiency, the birth control pill, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Anemia can be the result if there is not enough iron being supplied, not enough iron being assimilated, or too much iron being lost. Since bacteria also need iron to reproduce, having repeated bacterial infections can deplete one’s iron stores.
Iron deficient anemia is the most common form of anemia. It prevails among women who have heavy menstrual flows, elderly who have poor nutrition, digestion, and assimilation, pregnant women who are undergoing massive increases in blood volume, and lactating mothers. It is critically important to have blood work done before starting a high iron supplement therapy. Too much supplemental iron can damage the liver, heart, pancreas, and immune cell activity.
Other causes of heavy blood loss include the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and intra-uterine birth control devices.
One of the most common forms of therapy recommended by medical doctors for anemia in menstruating women is the birth control pill. By using hormones from an outside source to regulate the periods (the pill loosely simulates the hormonal balance of pregnancy) the amount of uterine lining that is built up is significantly reduced. This reduces the amount of lining and blood that can be lost during menses. The pill, however, puts untold stress on the liver and other body systems.
Ironically, women who are anemic tend to have heavier periods. Iron acts somewhat as a blood coagulant. One of the best ways to correct anemia in these women is to build their iron as rapidly as possible. We’ll look at ways to build iron a little later on.
Food choices are very important in combating anemia. Coffee and tea contain acids that toughen the stomach lining and bind up dietary iron making it unassimilable. When the lining is abused in this way the body’s ability to secrete enough digestive juices to break foods down well enough to release iron is significantly inhibited, and if you can’t get at the iron you can’t assimilate it. The tea and toast syndrome that elderly people get into pushes them into anemia by 1) not providing enough dietary iron; and 2) by reducing their already age-reduced digestive juices. Wheat bran also inhibits the absorption of iron, so using wheat bran as a nutritional food additive may not be a good idea.
Many young and poorly informed vegetarians also get into problems with anemia. Too many people think that vegetarianism means only giving up animal sourced products. While we can get enough iron from a well-planned vegetarian diet, it is much harder to get the required amount of B12 from that same diet. Hawthorn berries, Spirulina, and eggs all provide some B12.
Green leafy vegetables play an important roll in correcting anemia. Since iron is bound by heat, eating vegetables raw (but chewing them very well) makes the iron more available to us. Some of the best vegetables for boosting iron include leeks, parsley (not generally in pregnancy or breast feeding), spinach, green peas, Jerusalem artichoke, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, oats, strawberries, dark grapes. Simplify this list to dark green vegetables, purple fruits and vegetables, whole grains and black strap molasses and animal flesh proteins, to supply iron in easy to assimilate forms. Note the absence of dairy products on this list!
Iron can be taken as a supplement. Most commonly and readily bioavailable forms include ferrous sulphate, ferrous fumarate, and ferrous gluconate. To maximize its bioavailability it is wise to take any iron supplements with Vitamin C as it is supplied in Iron plus Vitamin C. Calcium, zinc, and synthetic vitamin E inhibit the absorption of iron. Interestingly, however, Zinc, Vitamin E, and copper, are essential to the formation of healthy red blood cells. (Copper is found in Liquid Chlorophyll.)
To enhance the red blood cell building side of the program, all iron supplements should be taken with a good broad spectrum, B-complex vitamin. Think Stress Formula. The stomach needs the B-complex family to enhance its production of hydrochloric acid that is necessary for the digestion or iron. Natural vitamin E can be helpful in cases of hemolytic anemia by making the red blood cells less fragile.
Anemia in pregnancy responds well to B-complex with extra Folic acid, vitamin C, and iron along with some digestive support in the form Food Enzymes.
One of my favorite supplements for anemia is Liquid Chlorophyll. Early on in my practice I worked with a woman in her early thirties who had several abdominal surgeries, including removal of a section of her bowel as a treatment for Crohn’s disease. She had a strong history of bowel bleeds and anemia and was pregnant. At our first meeting in her first trimester her hemoglobin was approximately nine. Her obstetrician was talking about packed cell transfusions to build her counts, but this was in the early1980’s with AIDS just hitting the news in a huge way. My client did not want to risk contracting AIDS. We chose, instead, to use 4 ounces of liquid chlorophyll per day, diluted in water, and added to that PDA and Small Intestinal Detox. Her red blood cell count climbed to over 14. It had never been that high in her adult life, and in spite of ending up with and emergency caesarean section, her count did not fall below 14.
There are certainly many other herbs that are rich in iron and can be very beneficial in correcting anemia. Herbs that contain good amounts of iron include Devil’s Claw, Chickweed, Mullein, Kelp, Burdock, Catnip, Milk Thistle, and Red Raspberry leaf. Nature’s Sunshine’s I-X is a very iron-dense blend of herbs. Red raspberry leaf supplies iron in one of the most easy to assimilate forms. Many of these herbs either support the liver or the spleen or both, and some of these herbs are more nutritive in nature.
“Tired blood” can be boosted. Sound dietary practices along with proper supplementation can make all the difference in the world.