Is Low Iron Getting You Down?

Posted by Mary R. Fry, N.D. on Tuesday, June 18, 2013

This blog series Is Low Iron Getting You Down? | A Healthy State of Mind aims to change that and to offer you a glimpse into homeopathic forms of nutrients as well. Upcoming newsletters will feature recipes rich in the nutrients discussed in the blog series. The series starts this month with the first of the primary nutrient deficiencies that can cause anemia. In the coming months, I will be covering different vitamins and minerals and their role in mental (and physical) health.  In mental health, I think that the role of optimal nutrition is often overlooked.

What is low Iron or Iron deficiency?

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide. Iron deficiency and anemia caused by iron deficiency affect at least 9-20% of adult women and over 2 percent of adult men in the United States1.  Iron deficiency in adults is generally due to inadequate dietary intake.  Allergy-free diets in which food fortification is absent (gluten-free grains are often not fortified with Iron) can contribute to decreased intakes of Iron.  Vegan, vegetarian and raw foods diets often result in reduced consumption of Iron. Poor dietary planning (diets with little variety and high in processed foods) can also contribute to poor iron status.

low Iron

Menstruating, pregnant, and lactating women are particularly at risk of iron deficiency. Women using an Intrauterine Device (IUD) for contraception tend to lose more blood (and thus more Iron) in menstruation ( whereas women using the contraceptive pill tend to lose less blood (and therefore less Iron)).

Women following vegetarian or vegan diets should be especially careful as vegetarian sources of Iron are often less absorbable and may not be sufficient to maintain iron stores. People with Celiac disease, gastrointestinal conditions where malabsorption is present (Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, for example), and individuals who donate blood regularly are also at risk of iron deficiency.

Low Iron or Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. The term anemia refers to blood that is deficient in hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying portion of the red blood cells).

When there is insufficient hemoglobin in the red blood cells, there is inadequate delivery of oxygen to the body’s tissues, resulting in fatigue, weakness, lack of motivation, difficulty getting out of bed, shortness of breath, palpitations, pale skin and nail beds, restless legs, decreased cold tolerance (due to a secondary deficiency of thyroid hormone), abnormal menstrual bleeding, vague gastrointestinal complaints (changes in appetite, flatulence, belching, nausea and constipation or diarrhea), impaired immune system function and decreased productivity and work capacity.

Iron is a critical part of the hemoglobin molecule and is also an integral part of enzymes involved in energy production and metabolism– which means that even low iron stores can result in symptoms – long before frank anemia would be diagnosed. I see this often in patients complaining of low energy, a lack of motivation, and signs of dysthymia or depression.

If you suspect that you may have low iron stores or anemia, laboratory tests and supplementation (under the guidance of a medical provider) are indicated. Iron supplementation is not safe for individuals with iron storage disorders such as hemosiderosis (a relatively common and often silent disease). It is not safe in excess (where it will act as a pro-oxidant).  The best indicator of low iron stores is serum ferritin. {Hemoglobin and Hematocrit levels will often be in the standard laboratory ranges even when iron stores have become significantly depleted.}

For those needing to increase Iron in the diet, it is available both from plants (non-heme form) and from animals (heme form)- see the table below. Absorption of Iron is higher for heme vs. non-heme Iron – though even a little heme iron can enhance non-heme absorption (this is referred to as the MFP factor – Meat, Fish & Poultry factor). Consuming iron-rich foods with vitamin C dramatically enhances iron absorption.  When low iron stores or anemia is discovered, highly absorbable forms of Iron are often advised, in conjunction with vitamin C, and iron-rich herbs such as Yellow Dock root, Dandelion root, and Nettle tops.

Iron in supplemental form can be constipating, so being able to give lower doses of highly absorbable forms formulated with other nutrients and herbs can be helpful. Tea (black, green, and white) can reduce iron absorption by up to 50%, so it is best consumed away from iron-rich foods and supplemental Iron.

Supplemental calcium is also best given away from iron-rich foods or additional Iron, as it can significantly decrease the absorption of Iron.  Phytates in the fiber or bran component of wheat, rice, nuts, and corn can decrease substantially iron absorption. (Adding vitamin C or meat to a meal where phytates are present helps to minimize this phenomenon.) Finally, cooking in cast iron pots and pans can contribute a significant amount of Iron.

Average Requirements of Iron 2
Adult Women(non-pregnant, non-lactating) 18mg/day
Adult Men 8 mg/day
Optimal Intake is quite variable depending on age, gender, hormonal balance, genetics, and dietary factors.

Iron Sources 2,3, 4

 

Food Item Amount of Food mg of Iron (approximate)
Beef 3 oz 3
Turkey (dark meat) 3 oz 2
Chicken (dark meat) 3 oz 1.25
Salmon 3 oz 0.6
Sardines 3 oz 2.5
Oysters 3 oz 6
Egg Whole cooked 0.8
Tofu 120 g 1.3
Lentils 1 cup 6.5
Sunflower Seeds ¼ cup 2.3
Swiss Chard 1 cup 3.2
Spinach (cooked) 1 cup 6.4
Dandelion Greens (cooked) 1 cup 1.9
Seaweed (Dulse) 2 g 3.0
Quinoa 2/3 cup 1.3

Iron is used homeopathically in the remedy ‘Ferrum metallicum.’ Prepared as a homeopathic remedy, Iron’s more subtle qualities emerge, aiding someone who seems a little under the weather, depressed or sad and pessimistic. Weepiness and irritability can often be seen. Anxiety about one’s family is often present.  A desire for solitude – even avoiding the sight of intimate friends and family is characteristic of those needing Ferrum metallicum homeopathically.

There is a tendency to be chilly, and faintness with exertion is seen. Knowing Iron’s involvement in energy production, many of these symptoms make sense…they are a defense/preserver of the little energy that one does have.

The homeopathic picture of Ferrum metallicum also includes an oversensitivity to pain and intolerance to being contradicted. This intolerance is quite notable, for upon being denied, someone needing Ferrum metallicum may fly into a rage! Allergies to many substances can be seen in those needing Ferrum. And changes in appetite and poor digestion are often seen as well.

When low energy, depression, and irritability are present, low iron stores and anemia need to be ruled out. Addressing such imbalances takes time and should be done under the guidance of a skilled healthcare practitioner. Optimal iron levels are so crucial to mental and physical health– so be sure that you have the standards that you need to function at your best!

If you would like to be notified of when a new blog entry is posted and would like to receive the clinic’s quarterly newsletter, be sure to sign up!

References:

  1. Killip, S., Bennett, J.M. & Chamber, M.D. (2007). Iron Deficiency Anemia. Am Fam Physician, 75 (5), 671-678. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0301/p671.html
  2. Grosvenor, M.B. & Smolin, L.A.  (2012). Visualizing Nutrition. Everyday Choices (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 289.
  3. Marz, R.B. (1999). Medical Nutrition from Marz. (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Omin-Press, 117.
  4. USDA. ARS. Nutrient Data Laboratory. (2013).  Iron Content of Selected Foods. Retrieved from https://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/SR24/nutrlist/sr24a303.pdf

Categories: Depression, Diet & Nutrition, Homeopathy, Psychiatry, Supplements Tags: Anemia, Dysthymia, Hormonal imbalances, Iron-deficiency Anemia