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Need help with Iron deficiency

I recently had my blood tested for B12, and the results were great, so I seem to have that issue under control. However, I am now borderline anemic. I've been raw since March 2007 and I really don't like the idea of meat anymore. I take E3 Live daily, eat absolutely massive amounts of spinach, kale, collard, anything dark green, so I am somewhat perplexed.

Any advice would be much appreciated.


  • Hi rAWnglish teechr--

    Actually some of the vegetables you're eating inhibit iron absorption, especially spinach. I was shocked when I found out. I'm borderline anemic and have been scarfing down spinach like Popeye. Spinach has a chemical called oxalic acid in it that inhibits the absorption of iron. These are some vegetables that are rich in iron: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomato, tomato juice, potato, green & red peppers. Watermelon and parsley are also rich in iron. You can also increase absorption by eating iron-rich foods with foods high in vit. C (strawberries, oranges, kiwis...). I'm sure others have ideas. I'd love to hear them.

    Also, are you an English teacher? So am I.

  • rawmamanibblesrawmamanibbles Raw Newbie

    believe it or not plant iron is harder to absorb than animal iron ( btw: im getting my info from shazzies new book - evies kitchen)

    she suggest taking Ionic iron - (which is what i started taking) and it helps alot.

    i get mine from vitacost.com

    ionic iron from trace minerals - good product

    i couldnt believe my iron was low either considering all the leafy greens, beets, cherries ect - but .......

    Ionic Iron!

    and it has to be taken with vitamin c

    and vitamin c has to have vitamin d and so on and so forth =)

  • Thanks so much for the advice, rawmamanibbles! I hope I can get it here in Canada...

  • I'm not trying to argue that many doctors will tell you that you could be deficient when you are not. I agree with that point, that they may make a general statement. But, I would find out what "borderline anemic" actually is. The doctor should be able to give you an actual number (and tell you what the units of measurement are too) that makes you "borderline anemic." Then you need to know what the health range is. Other words, you need something you can go by. That would be my first thought. I would be careful about assuming that the doctor is only telling you about this because you are vegan or raw. You may actually have an iron problem- but he or she should be able to "show you" that you have a problem.

    When I have my blood work done for work (it's part of our physical) our doctor has the number (of whatever it is that is tested) and then there is also a normal range to compare it to. My iron has always been in the lower healthy level. I asked the doctor about it, and he said it was fine. Some people are just lower. (My Mom and sister have both had anemia issues in the past and neither are vegetarian, so it's not just veggies who have this issue!)

    Also- definately up the vitamin C like someone mentioned. I personally have decided that spinach before trying to donate blood is a no-no (as someone mentioned about the spinach already). The last time I went to donate blood it was just under their level of iron so I couldn't donate. It was still within the healthy range though. But, I had been pigging out on spinach for a week before- and it showed.

    Oh, I also found some excellent info on iron and veganism. Some great tips I will have to follow before I give blood again.


  • blissful 7 - Wow. Popeye led me astray. I should have known not to trust the media:) Yes! I'm a high school English and Media Studies teacher in Ottawa, Canada - an awesome profession, though I might not say this in the middle of marking essays... Thanks for the advice on fruits and parsley.

    Kelly - my doctor did a blood test because I was asking about B12. I agree that this sort of test is questionable, especially in the case of blood. However, I guess my response is based upon how I've been feeling lately - somewhat sluggish. Then again, my life is crazy busy, I do way too much, I know, but I refuse to give up the things that I do for myself (like distance running and working out), and I have a hard time saying "no" to the requests of others.

    I like your advice - "don't worry" - so simple, so truthful, but so difficult to follow. Thanks.

    sisterbecky - great link, thanks. How do you manage your health if you don't get blood word done? Would a homeopath do blood work or do they look at urine?

  • kelly,

    "if you get tested, doctors will tell you that you are deficient, because they are taught to use rda levels for vitamins and minerals."

    I just wanted to point out that serum iron levels are only part of the picture when a doctor suspects iron deficiency anemia. They'll look at other values too such as:

    - total iron binding capacity (blood that needs more iron will be able to bind to more iron)

    - the size and shape of the blood cells (iron deficient blood cells are typically smaller and paler than normal blood cells. Blood cells may be oval shaped)

    - TfR (Transferrin receptor) - found to be inversely proportional to amount of body iron

    - % saturation of transferrin - transferrin is the transport protein for iron. The % saturation of transferrin with iron will of course be decreased in iron deficiency anemia

    - Ferritin levels - directly proportional to body iron

    - Free erythrocyte protoporphyrin (FEP) and zinc protoporphyrin (ZPP) - FEP is a precursor to the hemoglobin molecule, and if iron is not present, it will complex with zinc forming ZPP. Therefore, ZPP is increased in iron deficient anemia

    - hemoglobin and hematocrit levels because iron is needed to maintain these at a healthy level, and they'll therefore be decreased in iron deficiency anemia

    - Reticulocyte count may be increased. Reticulocytes are slightly immature red blood cells which are released by the bone marrow. It's normal to have a few in the blood stream, but in anemia, the bone marrow may release more to compensate

    And, in some cases, the doctor may order for bone marrow to be tested as well with a special stain which highlights iron. In iron deficiency anemia, little or no iron will be present in the bone marrow.

    (Source for all of the above tests; Clinical Hematology & Fundamentals of Hemostasis, Fourth Edition)

    As you can see, clinical laboratory testing for iron deficiency is actually quite thorough. It needs to be thorough in order to distinguish it from other types of blood disorders which may cause similar symptoms and may show a similar blood picture microscopically. If your doctor has ordered blood tests and determined from the results that you have iron deficiency anemia, be rest assured that they have reached this conclusion after quite a lot of testing and are quite likely to be correct.

  • RawEnglishTeechr,

    Did your doctor discuss treatment options with you, or possible causes of the anemia?

    Blizz was spot-on with the advice about the spinach, and the advice about eating fruits rich in vitamin c when trying to increase iron absorption. The only thing I would add to that is to consider taking a supplement if your iron levels don't start to improve.

    It is also good to think about whether there is an underlying cause of the anemia which must be treated in order to treat the anemia. The two most common causes are abnormally heavy menstruation, and bleeding ulcers. Suspect an ulcer if you have abdominal pain, tarry or bloody stools, vomiting that looks like coffee grounds, indigestion, etc. (Note: I'm not a doctor, but I do work in a blood lab if that counts for anything.)

    Good luck with everything and I hope you start to feel better soon. :)

  • rawmamanibblesrawmamanibbles Raw Newbie

    yea - i've heard it said plant is better to absorb than animal but ....... i've been raw two years eating nothing BUT high iron plant foods and yet i was still very low on iron ...... ...

    so i believe shazzie through experince and i found the source of ionic iron myself, she didnt suggest this brand.

    i was neve tested though - i didnt have to be, i could always tell when i was low thoughout my life. skin, dark circles, shaking, bruises, ect .

  • Chai, my doctor did discuss underlying causes and I don't have any of them, so he felt that diet could be the potential cause. What confuses me, however, is the amount that I need. My doctor said 300mg per day, and when I went to my local herbal store, the herbalist who helped me was astounded by that amount and suggested more in the order of 20mg per day. Hmmm????

    It's great to have knowledgable people such as you, Chai, helping to fill in the picture. I'm open to lots of thoughts, ideas and information. Just as rawmamnibbles has done, I like to trust in the knowledge of the mind and of the body - if I listen carefully, think patiently, I will be guided to what I need. Thanks for the support:)

    rawmamanibbles - I looked into the ionic iron and it seems promising, so thank you for that!

  • kellyannekellyanne Raw Newbie

    300mg is absolutely ridiculous, it's not possible! rda levels are 18 mg and that's more than enough.

  • Hey Rawnglish teechr,

    Have you tried nettles? They're amazingly high in minerals and great for anaemia. They were used in medieval times to treat it.

    I was a bit anaemic and now I take a really strong infusion of dried nettle that has been steeping all night every morning and It gives me a lot more energy and my iron levels are good.

    Might be one to try x

  • Tulsi,

    Hey thanks! I was doing some reading about nettles - I remember visiting England as a child and falling in a patch - ouch! I think I'd rather drink them steeped as you suggested:)

    I will definitely give that a try before I dose myself with 300mg of chemical.

    Thanks everyone for the advice.

  • zinfandelzinfandel Raw Newbie

    to set the record straight, raw food diets are not the CAUSE of iron deficiencies. i was fruitarian for a month and got my iron levels checked and they were above average. hah!

    if you already have a health imbalance in your body, then that's another thing.

  • zinfandel,

    An interesting point since I have been evaluating my diet and it seems that I have been eating foods with fairly high iron ratings; parsley, alfalfa, dock leaf powder, etc.

    I was wondering what you mean by "health imbalance" and whether or not you could speculate about possible causes of anemia. The medical community are quite firm in their conviction that vegan/vegetarian diets frequently do not supply sufficient iron, and some vegetarian sites that I have visited are in agreement with this belief. I think even Gabriel Cousins, a raw food guru, suggests vegans must supplement B12 which helps with iron absorption.

  • zinfandelzinfandel Raw Newbie

    I just follow an 811 diet and I don't have to worry about health problems. 811 is the ultimate diet for health and energy, in my experience.

  • rAWngish teechr~ Could you have mis-heard the MD, or mis-read his writing... Did he mean 300 micrograms which is 30 gm???

    It would be in your best interest to ask your questions to the prescribing MD, then you will know why and what he thinks you should be taking... Only he has all the information needed to make his point to you & for your health...

  • ajchanterajchanter Raw Newbie

    hey there, I suggest you read this article: http://debbietookrawforlife.blogspot.com/ by Debbie Took, it0s very interesting... here are some extracts!:

    "So those who follow high-fruit diets, who have fruit in quantity, as 'meals', should have no problems obtaining all the iron they need, even if they eat very little of the foods in the 'high iron' list.

    And, as Vitamin C helps iron absorption, high-fruit diets win all round (and, incidentally, the fact that raw fooders in general eat more Vitamin C counterbalances the claim from some that iron from animal foods is more easily absorbed than that from vegan sources)."

    "Iron can be measured in various ways, but the most common is the Hb count. In broad terms, figures less than 12 gm/dl are deemed to be 'low'. However, I'd suggest that if iron is just a little lower than the average and there are no symptoms of deficiency, then there is probably nothing to be concerned about. Bear in mind that studies as to what is an optimum iron level will have been carried out on the population in general, which of course includes meat-eaters. Iron may well be higher in meat-eaters, but that doesn't necessarily equal good. What's 'normal' is not necessarily healthy.

    For the 20 years preceding raw, I followed a cooked meat-less diet. As a blood donor several times I was told I couldn't donate due to 'low iron'. However, in all those years I had more energy and was healthier than most people I knew, and had no iron deficiency symptoms. Those who do feel 'tired'...this could be due to so many things. People who are neglecting their health in various ways, eg through overwork, not enough sleep, not enough fresh air, negative thinking...can easily feel tired. As raw fooders are more knowledgeable about nutrition than the average, it's tempting to look for the answer to problems in what we're eating, but we should also remember that as raw fooders our very good diets are the least likely to be responsible.

    And some studies are suggesting that 'low' blood iron may not be such a bad thing...Cancer Prevention Research Trust UK: 'low blood iron helps protect you from cancer as well as from bacterial infections.' 'The greater the iron concentration in a person's blood, the greater risk of developing cancer', says epidemiologist Richard Stevens of the Pacific Northwest Laboratory in Richmond, Wash, US.

    However, in the cases where Hb is very low and there are symptoms indicative of too little iron, there are several ways in which iron intake and/or absorption can be increased:

    1. Increase consumption of foods particularly high in iron, as per chart above.

    2. Increase consumption of fruit (sweet and non-sweet) to increase Vitamin C, which helps iron absorption.

    3. Decrease consumption of tea and coffee.

    4. For women - increase percentage of raw food, as all-raw women generally have lighter periods, meaning less iron lost, therefore less needs to be ingested."


  • waterbaby12347 - I wondered if I had heard my doctor correctly when I wrote "300mg", so I double-checked the prescription he wrote, and sure enough, it says 300mg! I agree I should ask him about this, but I don't think he supports a raw vegetarian diet, and he is, for the most part, quite traditional in his practice.

    Thanks ajchanger! I know I need to decrease my consumption of coffee...my only weakness.

  • According to my hematology textbook, the average adult will lose 1 mg of iron per day to cellular shedding and sweating. A menstruating woman loses 2 mg per day, and a pregnant or lactating woman typically loses 3 mg per day but could lose as high as five or six mg per day.

    Assuming a 5 - 10% absorption rate of iron from the diet, you'll have to consume at least 15 mg of iron per day to replace the 1 mg that is lost (and a menstruating woman will need around 20 mg and a pregnant woman will need around 30 mg).

    Since my education is in obtaining lab results, not in interpreting them or treating the diseases they uncover, I can't claim to know why your doctor would prescribe such a high amount. of iron. My best guess is that this is a temporary measure meant to immediately replenish the body's iron stores.

    Oh! I was just looking at a website which mentioned that a 300 mg tablet of ferrous sulphate will contain 60 mg of elemental iron. That makes it seem more reasonable. Still a high amount of iron for one day, but not as drastically high as we had thought :)

  • i reccomend herbal teas (shazzie approves too :)

    nettles. oatstraw. uhmmm.... I guess u don't eat molasses? i'm not totally raw, but i know u r gonna be just fine.

  • rawlizardrawlizard Raw Newbie

    (Sorry if this was said before but I could not read all the postings at this moment)

    My two cents. Another way of absorving more iron is to use citric acid (namely dressing your green salads with lemon), or adding orange juice to your green smoothies.

  • bittbitt Raw Newbie

    I tried to do supplements and eat nothing but iron-rich foods. did not work for me. sometimes when you get so low in iron you can't get it back up very easily. so i had to get shots. they worked and i will work hard to stay there with my diet. some may call me a failure on the raw diet but i think it would be a worse failure to compromise my ethics by eating meat or to stay iron deficient and give more fuel to the fire for people who think vegan diets are unhealthy. i don't know what it was that made me iron-deficient. 10 years ago i was vegetarian and had too much iron. i suspect it might have something to do with filtering my water. i used to drink tap. but i have no scientific evidence for this at all.

  • chai,

    Yes, thanks for reminding me about the "elemental iron" and it does seems a bit high, doesn't it? You know, I wondered about other loses of iron other than menstruation, and when I asked my doctor about it, he just shook his head. I do a fair bit of running, so I thought this might be a contributing factor.


    I love herbal teas so this is welcome advice. I read about nettles, but not oatstraw, so I'll have to get both the next time I'm out at my local organic store:)


    Ya - sometimes long posts, eh. (sorry for that Canadianism - I can't help it!)


    I definitely sympathize with your experience and perspective on being raw. Although I am striving for 100% raw, there are times where I wonder about compromises, and this issue with my iron has made me being to doubt. For now, I am going to supplement, see what happens with my iron levels, and continually revaluate my diet and lifestyle to aim for the greatest level of health and well-being. And, from my perspective, you are no failure:)

    Thanks for taking the time to give me your thoughts, and advice.

  • Red Beets. Grate them into your salad. Eat regularly.

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