I am writing this in the hope that it will help someone else.
I have battled anaemia for a number of years on and off. It’s usually been down to my menstrual cycle.
People don’t really understand ‘anaemia’. It’s seen more as a side effect than an illness. However, it is very debilitating. The minor symptoms are shortness of breath, hair falling out and then it also affects you with cognitive impairment if severe as you struggle to get sufficient oxygen to the brain. I’ve had episodes where I have fallen over, completely blacked out for a few seconds. Anaemia is like a one word concept that somehow the person with it is less than – Oh she’s anaemic; just take iron – and often because it’s a female issue it’s regarded as trivial and something easily overcome and of no concern.
When I was in my early twenties I was given the birth control pill not as a contraceptive but to manage my heavy periods. From it I ended up with a fibroadenoma, a benign breast growth and had to stop the hormones. I also had a miscarriage and after that was severely anaemic but because I was so emotionally distressed by my miscarriage I didn’t realise and forgot to look after myself properly because I felt so much grief and loss.
Signs of anaemia are the aforementioned shortness of breath, hair loss, feeling really out of it and struggling to think. Your whole body aches and often you get bruising on the inside lower leg (which coincides with TCM acupressure points for liver/kidney/spleen meridians). Your nails show signs too – often flattening out and your tongue has noticeable signs too. Whenever I have had it it’s taken me a while of feeling out of sorts, feeling a lack of energy and it’s only when it gets to a point of being so unable to function to the point of seeing my GP and them sending off bloodworks that I’ve realised it was anaemia. Other people tend to think you are being dippy. Plus because you are in fight/flight due to the lack of oxygen it makes you less able to cope with everyday stresses so you can end up far more emotional or grumpy than your usual self.
The primary reasons for anaemia are in women related to menstruation or childbirth. However, it can also be due to a number of other reasons including internal bleeding (such as tumours or endometriosis). Some people have B12 deficiency which can also result in anaemia. All reasons require you to check with your GP. If you have any of the symptoms then please get a blood test to check your counts and also to find out why you may be getting anaemia.
If like me you can’t take the usual NHS prescription medications (they leave me in pain and constipated which results in further blood loss) then look at more gentle iron supplements like Floradix. For iron to be absorbed properly it needs vitamin C to be present. It’s important to increase your intake of vitamin C rich foods – lemon juice in a glass of water at the start of the day is helpful plus eating leafy greens like kale is too. It is important to avoid tannins when you take iron so no black tea alongside your supplements. Plus calcium rich foods at the same time can affect uptake so it’s best not to take dairy at the same time as your supplement. I thankfully have access to a wonderful medical herbalist called Fiona Morris of Nourish & Flourish and she has prescribed me dried nettle which I drink a number of times a day. Where I used to live I had my own nettle patch so I could harvest my own and I’d eat them in soups, steamed or dry them for tea. You can also make nettle pesto or sprinkle dried nettle onto food like any other culinary herb. I am also taking nettle juice (Salus do one that comes in a handy bottle). Nettle also helps the kidneys. I am an omnivore so a couple of portions of good quality pasture raised meat per week I find helps me including organ meats like the liver.
It takes 3 months for red blood cells to develop so that’s how long it can take with a good iron rich diet to rebuild your blood iron counts. However, you can work on them but until you find the reason for your anaemia then it will keep coming back if you can’t solve the puzzle. For me I find gluten containing foods to be detrimental to my health. Although I do not have Coeliac disease I do seem to be gluten sensitive. If I eat a lot of gluten rich foods then it doesn’t take long for my gut health to be compromised and then that is when I struggle to absorb iron and I get another flare up of anaemia.
As mentioned above I wish to reiterate the importance of seeing your GP if you have any of the symptoms. A medical diagnosis is important and ruling anything more sinister out as a cause is too.