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Anaemia - do I have it?

Updated: Sep 23, 2021


Iron deficiency, with or without anaemia represents a global health problem affecting more than 2 billion people worldwide.

Anaemia is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein of red blood cells which binds and carries oxygen around the body. If you have too few or abnormal red blood cells, or your hemoglobin is abnormal or low, the cells in your body will not get enough oxygen.

Symptoms of iron deficient anaemia include dizziness, breathlessness (even when not exerting oneself) lightheadedness,tiredness, fast heart rate, pale skin, leg cramps, insomnia, brittle nails, an increased risk of infection and thinning hair.

Who is most likely to get iron deficient anaemia?

Women who are menstruating are at a high risk of getting anaemia. (Young children and babies are also at risk but here we are focusing on women). For young women -- particularly those following a vegetarian diet -- maintaining a healthy level of iron-rich foods and nutrients is key.

There are two forms of iron: haem iron from meat, chicken and fish and non-haem iron from vegetables, grains, cereals, fruits, nuts and seeds.

What is the best source of iron?

Lean red meat is the best source of easily-absorbed haem iron, so try to include it in your diet 3-4 times per week. Other meats (chicken, poultry, pork) and fish are also good sources of easy to absorb iron, so eat a variety of these to increase your iron intake.

What about for vegetarians?

If you don’t eat meat and fish, try to include foods that are rich in non-haem iron such as tofu, iron-fortified breakfast cereals and cooked beans and lentils. To increase the absorption of non-haem iron try to have vitamin C-rich foods – such as kiwifruit, citrus fruits, orange juice and capsicums – at the same time. For example, a glass of orange juice with your breakfast cereal will increase the iron absorbed from the cereal.

Tea reduces the amount of iron absorbed by the body. Drink tea between meals, or wait at least ½ -1 hour after eating.

What do the biomarkers mean on my blood test?

If you have have ever had a blood test for your iron levels, you may be confused about what they mean.

Most of us get really confused when looking at our blood tests. So I've provided a simple interpretation.

▶️ Serum iron is the measure of circulating iron. This is a very variable marker due to changes over the day. It is like the 'loose change in your pocket"

▶️ Transferrin is the main iron transporting protein, as iron needs to be transported around the body.

▶️ Transferrin saturation indicates how much serum iron is bound to transferrin. One molecule of transferrin binds to 3 atoms of iron its the "money in your wallet"

▶️ Ferritin levels represent the level of iron found in storage around your body: such as in the spleen, liver and bone marrow. One molecule of ferritin binds 4500 atoms of iron. "savings in your bank"

Interpreting your results can be complicated. In general, there are three major types of anemia, classified according to the size of the red blood cells. If the red blood cells are smaller than normal, this is called microcytic anemia. The major causes of this type are iron deficiency (low level iron as above) anaemia and thalassemia (inherited disorders of hemoglobin). Pernicious anaemia is another type of anaemia, which is when a person is unable to make enough red blood cells, due to an inability to absorb vitamin B12 from their gut.

In general it is the ferritin that is noted when looking at the results. Note: there is a broad range of ferritin that is considered ok, it ranges from 20-380 in NZ.

However, research shows that for healthy hair growth your ferritin should be above 40!

I do suggest you ask your naturopath and of course your doctor or nurse to explain your specific results in relation to your personal health situation. Googling to interpret your results may lead you to unnecessary stress!

Supplementation is an area that I can help you with if you have found that the prescription form causes constipation and digestive discomfort. We can explore whas has caused your anaemia, for example if it is caused by heavy menstrual bleeding we can support your hormones, or if it is poor digestion/ absorption we can work on improving the function of that whole body system.

Some of the factors that may influence absorption are the form of iron given, the availability of the co-factors required and the dosing regime. (There is fascinating new study out with intermittent dosing proving to have effective results.) Reference available upon request.

As a sufferer of chronic anaemia, I highly recommend getting support for your health!

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