I don’t usually make it a habit of discussing my physical health issues with others, but if this can help one of you then it will be worth it. My goal with this post is to share my story of severe iron deficiency anemia. How it happened and how I overcame it. Hopefully this can be helpful to someone out there.
What is Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron-deficiency anemia is anemia caused by a lack of iron. Anemia is defined as a decrease in the number of red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin in the blood. When onset is slow, symptoms are often vague such as feeling tired, weak, short of breath, or having decreased ability to exercise. Anemia that comes on quickly often has more severe symptoms, such as confusion, feeling like you’re going to pass out or increased thirst. Anemia is typically significant before a person becomes noticeably pale.
Iron-deficiency anemia is caused by blood loss, insufficient dietary intake, or poor absorption of iron from food. Sources of blood loss can include heavy periods, childbirth, uterine fibroids, stomach ulcers, colon cancer, and urinary tract bleeding. Poor absorption of iron from food may occur as a result of an intestinal disorder such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease, or surgery such as a gastric bypass.
What Caused My Iron Deficiency Anemia
If truth be told, I had probably been slightly anemic for quite some time. Due to heavy menstrual cycles every month, my body was probably having a hard time replenishing my red blood cells. Also, I would come to realize that my diet had also been majorly lacking in iron.
But the BIG situation occurred when I had a SUPER heavy cycle for 10 days straight! Not to be TMI, but it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I literally couldn’t leave my house. If any of you ladies have experienced anything like this than you know what I’m talking about. I was having to get up almost every hour during the night.
After about a solid week of this, I decided I needed to go see my doctor ASAP. I had blood work done and sure enough, I was severely anemic. This was simply due to massive blood loss. I was extremely weak, had major heart palpitations and could hear my heartbeat in my ears. It was super scary and at one point I even questioned if I was going to survive. That may sound a little dramatic, but having never gone through any health scare before, I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out.
My Strategy for Overcoming Iron Deficiency Anemia
After speaking to my doctor, she strongly recommended that I come in immediately and get admitted to the hospital. She wanted me to get a blood transfusion pronto! I was completely shocked at this recommendation. There was NO way I wanted someone else’s blood put into my body. I just wasn’t willing to accept this. If someone truly needs this life-saving procedure, than I am so thankful for this option, but it just didn’t feel right for ME.
After talking with my husband, Joe we decided that we would tackle this head on with diet and supplementation. My doctor told me that I MUST begin immediately taking an iron supplement twice a day. After reading that most iron supplements can cause constipation and stomach upset, I was so lucky to find this one by MegaFood Blood Builder. I feel it really helped increase my iron levels quickly. I still take this twice a day to maintain my iron levels. It gives me no problems with constipation or nausea, whatsoever.
Besides the iron supplement, I began eating foods known to be extremely high in easily absorbable iron. Let’s talk about the two different types of iron.
The Two Different Types of Iron
Before my bout with anemia, I really wasn’t aware of the two different types of iron. There is heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal foods that contain hemoglobin, such as meat, fish and poultry. Heme iron is the best form of iron, as up to 40% of it is readily absorbed by your body (3Trusted Source).
Good food sources of heme iron include:
- Fish such as halibut, haddock, perch, salmon or tuna
- Shellfish such as clams, oysters and mussels
Non-heme iron primarily comes from plant sources and is present in grains, vegetables and fortified foods. This is the form added to foods enriched or fortified with iron, as well as many supplements.
It’s estimated that 85–90% of total iron intake comes from the non-heme form, while 10–15% comes from the heme form. In terms of its bioavailability, non-heme iron is absorbed much less efficiently than heme iron.
Good sources of non-heme iron include:
- Fortified cereals, rice, wheat and oats
- Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
- Dried fruits like raisins and apricots
- Beans like lentils and soybeans
Be Aware of Iron Blocking Foods
Before my situation a few months ago, I was unaware that there are certain foods that can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb iron. It was total news to me, but made perfect sense as to why I was not getting in enough iron. Check out some of the main iron blocking culprits.
Eggs and Iron
Eggs are a common inhibitor of iron absorption. They contain phosvitin, a protein compound that binds iron molecules together and prevents the body from absorbing iron from foods. According to the Iron Disorders Institute, one boiled egg can reduce iron absorption by as much as 28 percent.
Milk can also work as an inhibitor of iron absorption, potentially affecting your iron levels. Milk contains calcium, an essential mineral and the only known substance to inhibit absorption of both non-heme and heme iron. One cup of milk contains approximately 300 mg of calcium. Calcium has little or no effect on iron absorption when less than 50 mg is ingested, but it can inhibit heme iron and non-heme iron absorption when 300 to 600 mg is consumed on a daily basis. Large amounts of calcium can also be found in yogurt, cheese, sardines, canned salmon, tofu, broccoli, almonds, figs, turnip greens and rhubarb.
Foods High in Oxalates
If you consume large amounts of tea with your meals, you may not be receiving an adequate amount of iron from those foods. Tea contains oxalates — oxalic acid compounds that impair the absorption of non-heme iron. Oxalates can also be found in spinach, kale, beets, nuts, chocolate, wheat bran, rhubarb, strawberries and herbs such as oregano, basil and parsley.
Cocoa and coffee are food sources that can inhibit iron absorption in the body. These foods sources contain polyphenols or phenolic compounds, antioxidants that help remove damaging free-floating cells from the body — which means that morning cup of coffee inhibits iron.
According to the Iron Disorders Institute, cocoa can inhibit 90 percent of iron absorption in the body, while one cup of coffee can prevent iron absorption by as much as 60 percent. Phenolic acid can be found in apples, peppermint and some herbal teas, spices, walnuts, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. It is important to note that these foods should not be consumed two hours prior to, or following, your main iron-rich meal.
Foods High in Phytates
Walnuts can reduce the amount of iron your body absorbs from iron-rich foods. Walnuts contain phytates — compounds found in soy protein and fiber. According to the Iron Disorders Institute, phytates can reduce iron absorption from food by approximately 50 to 65 percent. Phytates can also be found in almonds, sesame, dried beans, lentils, peas, cereals and whole grains.
My experience with iron deficiency anemia was a pretty scary situation for me. But I am happy to report that after just a few weeks of taking my supplement and eating more foods rich in iron, my body began to heal. I knew that my overall health was good and that my body just needed a little time to get me back to normal.
I hope my story was helpful and informative. Have any of you experienced iron deficiency anemia?
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