What is anemia?
Anemia is a medical diagnosis in which a person’s blood contains a lower than normal number of red blood cells (RBCs), the cells responsible for cycling oxygen and carbon dioxide between the tissues of the body and the lungs. The symptoms of anemia can also occur if the RBCs present in the blood don’t have enough hemoglobin, a protein that allows the cells to transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and that gives blood its red color.
What are the symptoms?
People with anemia typically feel tired and weak. In addition, they may experience symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Cold or numb hands and/or feet
- Low body temperature
- Pale skin
- Black, tarry, or bloody stools (from blood loss)
- Weight loss
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
These symptoms occur because the tissues in organs throughout the body may not be getting an optimal supply of oxygen, and because the heart must pump harder to cycle and deliver as much of the available oxygen-rich blood as possible.
How to Treat Anemia and Iron Deficiency Naturally
As nice as it might sound, the answer to low iron problems is not to move to the mountains. Your body would gradually become acclimated to the higher altitude and the symptoms of anemia would gradually return. There is an easy solution, though, as you’ll see.
- Adjust your diet. For borderline problems you can start by increasing the green leafy vegetables in your diet, also red cabbage, parsley (yes, it’s edible), beets, alfalfa, watercress, wheat grass, spinach, vegetable tops, cucumbers, tomato juice, fish, coconuts, eggs, black strap molasses, black cherry and blackberry juice are all high in iron.
- Consider supplementation. If your level of iron is known to be low, most likely you’ll need an iron supplement. Iron in the form of ferrous fumarate seems to work best. Make sure your iron supplement contains folic acid (folate). A deficiency in folic acid presents the same symptom picture as anemia. High quality supplements will also contain B12. Check the label for the amount of “elemental” iron, not the total iron content. Elemental (iron in the salt form) is the only type we can absorb. One bottle that advertises 200 mg of iron may, by closer observation, have only 10 mg of elemental iron. If the label doesn’t list the elemental iron, you can always check to see what percent of the RDA it furnishes. The RDA is 8 mg per day for all men and for women over the age of 51, and 18 mg per day for women under the age of 51 (or who have yet to go through menopause).
- Take digestive enzymes. To maximize the benefit of an iron supplement, you may need a digestive enzyme. You can almost bet on needing one if you have problems with calcium or protein digestion.
- Avoid contraindications with foods. Don’t take iron at the same time you take vitamin E or with eggs—both will reduce your absorption capabilities. Coffee and tea also interfere with iron assimilation. On the other side of the coin, citrus juice and vitamin C can increase absorption rates tremendously.