Hello friends! I am sure all of us know someone who is struggling with iron deficiency! And you must be wondering why is it so hard to get enough iron from our dietary sources? In this blog I will try to shine some light on iron!
First of all, let’s see why is iron so important? Iron is a mineral that our body uses to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is found in our red blood cells and helps carry oxygen to all parts of our body. Without enough iron, our body will not have enough hemoglobin, and we may develop iron deficiency anemia.
The most common symptom of anemia is feeling tired all the time. The skin could turn pale. You might get dizzy and experience frequent headaches and breathlessness. You could also experience tachycardia (medical term for a heart rate over 100 beats per minute), restlessness, tingling of legs or it could also go to the extent that the person shows signs of depression or anxiety!
There are many factors which can lead to anemia: –
- It may be due to a vegetarian diet lacking in the right combination of foods. Even meat eaters could develop anemia due to weak digestion!
- It could be living a busy lifestyle that meal times are always rushed and too focused on processed foods devoid of nutrition!
- Low protein intake could also be a factor contributing to the development of anemia as hemoglobin is made up of proteins and iron together. Sometimes over consumption of proteins could lead to anemia as it taxes the digestive system leaving us incapable of properly digesting & absorbing nutrients! As I always say …Moderation is the key!
- Stress plays a huge role in the proper functioning of our digestive system which is crucial for the digestion & absorption of nutrients from the food we eat.
- Low stomach acid is one of the most common causes of iron deficiency anemia in today’s world. It could be that our digestive system is becoming weaker day by day, i.e. we are not able to secrete the right kind & the right amount of digestive juices in order to absorb the nutrients from our food!
- Also, as we age, our digestive capacity slowly begins to go down unless we really take care of our diet and lifestyle!
- Vegetarians need to eat almost twice as much iron as people who eat meat, fish and poultry. The iron from plant foods is not absorbed by the body as well as iron from animal foods.
- Females with heavy menstrual bleeding may need extra iron.
- Frequent blood donors may need more iron depending on a variety of factors, including how often they donate.
- Endurance athletes such as long-distance runners may need more iron because of the intensity of their activity.
- Pregnant women need more iron to support the growth of their fetus.
In this blog, I am going to share with you some of the time-tested strategies of how to maximize the absorption of iron from food!
Food contains iron in 2 forms:
- Heme iron is found in meat, fish and poultry, and is easily absorbed by your body.
- Non-heme iron is found in beans and lentils, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, some fruits, nuts and seeds, and is not absorbed as well by your body, but you can still absorb non-heme iron from foods by eating them at the same time as foods high in vitamin C. Also, you could cook in cast-iron cookware to increase the iron in foods. Do not drink black tea or coffee with your meal. Wait 1 to 2 hours after eating. These beverages can reduce the amount of iron that can be absorbed from foods.
Should we rely on iron supplements?
In addition to eating iron-rich foods every day, some people may need iron supplements. Only take iron supplements when recommended by your health care provider. Too much iron can be harmful, especially for infants and children. Always keep iron supplements, including multivitamins with iron, out of reach of children. People with hemochromatosis absorb too much iron and should not take iron supplements. If you take both calcium and iron supplements, do not take them at the same time. Calcium may decrease the amount of iron that is absorbed.
Now Let’s look at Anemia through the lens of Ayurveda: –
Ayurveda views anemia to be primarily a pitta disorder. Pitta is seated in the stomach & duodenum. It aids in the process of digesting & assimilating foods. If this process does not function properly, the minerals in food, like iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium do not get absorbed into the blood stream.
As per Ayurveda, it doesn’t matter what vitamin or mineral may be deficient in the person experiencing signs of Anemia. What is more important is to look at how anemia is expressing itself through the individual.
Anemia can be explained in three different ways as per Ayurveda: –
Vata-type anemia is generally due to malnutrition, “vishama agni” (variable digestive capacity) and may be expressed by rough, dry skin and cracking of the joints. The person may be pale or emaciated and suffer breathlessness, constipation or hard & dark stools. Might also experience insomnia, anxiety as well as tremors along with feeling tired and fatigued all the time!
Pitta-type anemia (usually caused by blood loss due to excessive bleeding during heavy menstruation or hemorrhoids or bleeding gums) may be expressed through yellowing of the eyes, nails & skin, dizziness, sensitivity to light. The individual may have dark-colored urine, dark brown or yellow stools, there might be diarrhea at times. May have fever, excessive thirst, burning sensation in the eyes.
Kapha-type anemia is often due to excessive fat and mucus blocking proper secretion of digestive enzymes, preventing proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. It is expressed by swelling (edema), water retention in the body & overweight. The skin has a feeling of being cold and clammy. The person might feel lethargic, heavy and sleepy with heaviness in the limbs.
Below are some of the ways to start bringing balance in life!
As per Ayurveda, the pathology of anemia finds its roots in the imbalance of “Agni” (the digestive fire), which eventually leads to the formation of “AMA” (Toxins). Therefore, it is very important to keep your digestive fire (AGNI) balanced- i.e. neither too high nor too low. But just right for your body type!
- It is important to improve your digestive capacity (Agni).
- It is equally important to detoxify your body and keep your liver happy!
- Indian gooseberry (Amla) and beetroot reactivates red blood cells and supplies the body with fresh oxygen. Have one Amla and one beetroot daily in some form, either juice or soups or salads depending on your prakruti.
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away fits well in this case! – Apple is a good snack for those who have anemia. Lightly stewed apples are great for Vata prakruti.
- Mix 1/3 cup of apple juice with 1/3 cup of beetroot juice & 1/3 cup of carrot juice. Have this juice daily.
- Soak black sesame seeds in warm water for 2 hours. Grind it to paste and add honey or jaggery (gur) & Mix well. Take 1-2 tsp. of this paste in a glass of milk.
- Have 1 cup pomegranate daily. Chew it well. It boosts blood count.
- Have a banana every day. It promotes the production of hemoglobin in the blood.
- Include Raisins, dates, prunes & figs daily in your diet.
- Include nuts and seeds (esp. pumpkin seeds).
- Have berries & citrus fruits keeping your prakruti in kind.
- All leafy greens (e.g. spinach, kale) are excellent for building good blood (as they are rich in chlorophyll)
- Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts) are excellent for the liver and help keep toxins as well as hormones in check.
- Include beans such as red kidney beans that are rich in both iron and folic acid.
- Avoid Black tea or coffee as they prevent absorption of minerals especially iron!
- Take ayurvedic supplement- Triphala before bed. The high content of vitamin C in triphala will help in the absorption of iron, as well as aid in the detoxification process.
- Shatavari ghee may also be beneficial. But always consult a qualified ayurvedic practitioner before taking any ayurvedic herbal supplements as some may be contraindicated with specific body types.
- Do regular self-oil massage (Abyhanga). This helps remove stagnancy in the body and activates all the organ systems of the body.
- Flushing out toxins in the body through the use of lymphatic massage also aids in circulation.
- Daily breathing exercises (Pranayama) are really helpful. They help bring in oxygen to each and every cell of the body and mind. At the same time, they also aid in detoxification & building good blood.
- Although people with anemia experience a lot of fatigue, light and regular exercise such as walking and yoga will encourage the flow of prana in the body.
The underlying root cause of anemia can be different for different individuals; therefore, it is important to address the root cause and identify which Dosha is out of balance at the moment. It is important to start incorporating diet and lifestyle as per your unique “Prakruti” – (mind body type) and start bringing yourself back into balance.
If you need help identifying your unique mind body constitution (Prakruti), CONNECT with us for your personalized one on one consultation that includes a perfect blend of holistic nutrition and our ancient ayurvedic wisdom.
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The content provided in my blogs are for knowledge sharing purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.