Low iron and why you are so darn tired all the time …

“Iron – one of the essential trace elements of life on earth. Formed deep within stars then scattered across space by collapsed supernovas which spew their contents right across the universe. Iron is secreted in our soils, hiding in our glaciers, floating in our oceans and carried in our blood” Ann Jones

I was amazed by this incredibly poetic description of how iron comes to us. So many of us have experienced times of low iron. So how does it happen and what can we do about it ?

Blended green smoothie with ingredients on wooden table


There are lots of reasons why you may be low in iron :

* Dietary insufficiency
* Blood loss from disease, trauma, menstruation
* Times of increased need e.g. recovery from injury, pregnancy, post birth, exercise
* Drug mugging – some medication make it hard for you to absorb iron. These include antibiotics, acid blocking medications, osteoporosis treatments, thyroid supplements.
* Lack of necessary digestive enzymes and cofactors needed for absorption
* Too much calcium or phosphorus

Iron is needed for many functions but the main one is for regenerating and rebuilding red blood cells. RBC’s use haemoglobin to carry oxygen around the body. Insufficient iron leads to low RBC count and means that the heart and lungs have to work much harder to ensure that oxygen is getting where it’s needed. Apart from blood production and oxygen transport iron is also needed for healthy levels of enzymes which control many cell functions and for healthy immune responses.

Signs of low iron :

* brittle or flaking nails
* cold hands and feet
* tongue soreness
* food cravings
* fatigue/lethargy/poor recovery/low motivation
* headaches
* shortness of breath
* lightheadedness
* palpitations/erratic heart rate
* poor immune function
* poor concentration
* depression, anxiety and panic
* muscle weakness and pale skin

Sources of iron include meat, dark leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, blackstrap molasses, pumpkin and seeds, eggs.

Things needed to absorb iron efficiently – vitamin C, B12, folic acid, digestive enzymes and adequate stomach acid. Coffee, tea and wine can decrease your ability to absorb iron as can some medications (see above).

Blood tests :
An iron study of your blood is a snapshot of your current situation.
It is important to have good levels of serum iron and ferritin. The reference ranges on your blood test results are not always a good indicator of an adequate iron status. Read more here about pathology testing.

Depending on your level of deficiency, addressing low iron can take several months to correct and depends greatly on the quality and appropriateness of your supplement. There area number of herbal medicines which can increase red blood cell count and iron absorption making your supplementation much more effective. Anyone who has experienced constipation, nausea or other side effects of ‘off the supermarket shelf’ iron supplements can tell you how unpleasant it can be.

It’s worth speaking to someone who can identify the causes of your deficiency and the most effective, safe and side effect free iron sources for you.




Why pathology reference ranges aren’t giving you the answers you need….


I have had a spate of clients recently with all manner of symptoms who been told that their blood test results are all in the ‘normal’ range. They have been looking for answers but they’re not finding them at the doctors office.

When discussing their declining health some have been told that this is just the way it goes, some have been offered antidepressants and others have been told that there is nothing wrong. One woman whose quality of life was very poor was told to be grateful that she didn’t have something more sinister going on. If your blood results are ‘normal’ then there is nothing to be done no matter what your symptoms are saying.

It’s hard when you are feeling genuinely unwell and seek help but end up being told that their is no evidence for the way you are feeling. It can lead people to feel fobbed off, disbelieved or like it’s all in their heads. One woman I saw recently told me that she had seen two GP’s and a specialist for terrible fatigue and headaches. She had blood tests, scans, spent hundreds of dollars and came out with a referral to a psychologist and a script for an antidepressant. She told me that she felt like they thought she was ‘just a complainer or one step away from a straight jacket’. This capable, productive, warm and friendly woman really was feeling quite low but not because of her original symptoms.

When we looked at her pathology results we discovered that the laboratories reference ranges were hugely wide. When we compared her iron levels and B12 levels to those of a year ago they had decreased significantly. They were still barely within the reference range but something had obviously happened to bring about such a drastic change in her normal range.

The previous year she had suffered a terrible personal loss, had changed jobs and had lost a lot of weight due to her inability to eat while grieving. All of this, combined with the enormous nutritional requirements of that kind of stress, had left her iron depleted, lacking in B12 and with some other essential levels barely scraping by.

After three weeks of nutrient therapy, herbal medicine and recommencing some gentle exercise her low mood symptoms had significantly reduced. She felt like ‘the fog had lifted’ and her energy levels were slowly building up again.

It will take a few more months to feel the full benefit of treatment but at least she is back on track, feeling hopeful and not the least bit ‘crazy’. She can see that there was a physiological cause for her symptoms and is feeling that there is light at the end of the tunnel. She is also feeling validated and good about the fact that someone has taken her seriously.

If this story resonates with you why not make an appointment to have a health assessment and review of your pathology tests. The results may surprise you and give you the answers you are looking for.

  • Story shared with permission of client


These are da (bath) bomb …

bath bomb 2

If, at any time in the future, someone questions my hippy/naturopath credentials I am going to refer them to this blog post.

There are a few people in my family who are partial to a long hot soak in the bath and we usually like to throw in a bath bomb. I was having a look at the list of ingredients on some at the shops this morning and I realised that I really didn’t want to spend an hour of my life soaking in that stuff….Anything called PEG-150, titanium dioxide, benzyl benzoate and weird colours and fragrances that are identified only by scary secret numbers are not my friend.

So I came home, did some research and made my own !


With a few simple ingredients from the pantry I made a dozen of these sweet smelling beauties. Just a few dollars worth of ingredients, a quick trip to the garden and five minutes of my time and I now have twelve baths to look forward to and the knowledge that there is no cocktail of nasties involved.

How to …

Mix together 1/2 cup citric acid, 1 cup bicarbonate of soda and 1 cup epsom salts

Stir well and make sure there are no lumps.

Stir in 2 – 3 tablespoons of melted coconut oil and mix well again. Stir in 10-20 drops of essential oil if desired. The mix should be crumbly but hold together when you squash some in your hands. You can add a little extra water or coconut oil to get the right consistency.

You can mix in any colours, herbs, flowers etc that you’d like to use now or you can just sprinkle them into the moulds before filling with bath bomb mixture.

Lightly oil a muffin tray, or any mould you want to use, with a little coconut oil and spoon the mix in pressing down firmly.

Leave to dry for at least 8 hours then gently unmould and store in airtight container. Best used within a few weeks.

Now go find a book, light a candle and have a good soak on me.

The lowdown on cortisol …


Most of us know that there is a link between stress and cortisol levels but there’s a lot more to this little steroid hormone than you may think.

Cortisol is produced in two ways – in response to stress and as part of our natural sleep and wake cycle. It peaks at about 8am to help us rise and shine and get active for the day.The levels drop throughout the day with the low point happening at around 4am before it ramps up again for our daily wake up call.

Cortisol plays a big role in our stress response. Cortisol helps us deal with stress by shutting down some  functions to allow the body to direct all its energy to dealing with the stress. This cortisol reaction is supposed to be short term and just long enough to deal with the source of stress. Unfortunately our lives can be anything but stress free and when stress is chronic this becomes a problem.

How does cortisol affect us ?

  • It stimulates glucose production and slows insulin meaning you end up with lots of sugar in your blood. Thats great if you actually have something you’re trying to run away from but not so good when you’re just sitting around feeling stressed about how to pay your bills.
  • Cortisol hinders the immune system when levels are high making your body more susceptible to infections and bacteria. Have you noticed how you always get sick when your stressed ?
  • It also slows bone formation and decreases calcium absorption so when its too high there’s no bone growth and no muscle growth.
  • It causes high blood pressure and decreased blood flow to organs
  • Too much or too little cortisol messes up thyroid hormones
  • Leads to increased stomach acid and reflux
  • Makes us less fertile and more likely to miscarry
  • Changes our metabolism and makes us hungry and less able to realise when we are satisfied

Our body has a system that is meant to regulate cortisol levels by shutting down production when things get too high. Unfortunately when we are stressed all the time the system gets mucked up and can’t regulate properly  – kind of like insulin resistance when we flood our bodies daily with sugar. The result is that our cortisol levels become unhealthy and high or  low at the wrong time of day leaving us feeling out of kilter.

Ways to lower cortisol

  • Regular exercise – not marathon running – try yoga, pilates, walking, stretching
  • Meditation, relaxation, breathing exercises
  • Get enough sleep
  • Listen to music you love
  • Drink black tea – about 3 cups per day
  • Get a massage
  • Learn some stress management techniques
  • Avoid all alcohol
  • Eat nutrient dense food – especially those high in magnesium, vitamin C and B vitamins.
  • See a naturopath for help doing all of the above ! There are some great herbal medicines and supplements that can support you back to healthy cortisol levels.

The drop on caffeine ….


My daughter’s partner is a self confessed coffee snob. He will travel miles for the perfect cup. He takes hours making his own cold drip coffee. He gets other people to snaffle up special beans for him when they are available. He talks about coffee like other people talk about wine – lots of whimsical adjectives like ‘citrussy, smooth, sharp and bright’. He is taking great delight in my daughters budding coffee appreciation and I love watching how happy it makes him when he finds or makes some that makes the grade. So is this an innocent enjoyment or an unhealthy habit ????

Australia’s caffeine consumption is going up and up. Our cafe culture, home coffee machines, caffeinated drinks and dietary supplements all contribute to our caffeine intake.

There is no doubt that a small amount of caffeine can improve performance with mental acuity, focus and energy increased by about 10% with a morning coffee hit. Other benefits include antioxidant effects which reduce risks of cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimers Disease and diabetes.

The problem with caffeine consumption is that most people have too much and they combine it with things like cows milk and sugar which blocks our ability to absorb the beneficial aspects of caffeine. Too much coffee also places a strain on liver function, overloading our detoxification system.

A small coffee contains approximately 100mg of caffeine and tea about 35mg. So called ‘energy drinks’ contain between 80 and 220mg of caffeine. Dietary supplements such as pre-workout supplements contain between 150 and 400mg.

The products containing high levels of caffeine are not safe or beneficial, especially for children, and I am often alarmed by how many people I see regularly consuming potentially harmful products. The risks add up when combined with other toxins such as alcohol e.g. Red Bull and Vodka drinks.

Caffeine has a half life of eight hours. This means that eight hours after your 100mg caffeine coffee you will still have 50mg in your system.

Your liver can only metabolise 30-40mg of caffeine at a time so regardless of how much more caffeine you consume you will still only be able to metabolise and use the original amount you ingested. When you have multiple doses of caffeine throughout the day you can’t actually use it so it accumulates in your body. These high accumulated levels can become problematic causing or contributing to anxiety, insomnia, cardiovascular problems, mood disorders, headaches, skin and digestive problems.

Caffeine in pregnancy – pregnant Mum’s need to take particular care. Adult livers are about the size of your fist, babies only the size of a five cent piece. Adult livers detoxify caffeine in 8 hours, babies take 128 days so it makes sense to avoid caffeine while pregnant and breast feeding.

So, have a coffee if you enjoy it but be careful about overloading your liver and undoing any benefit you might gain from it. Try swapping to lower caffeine teas, decaf coffees, herbal teas or caffeine free alternatives.



Stressed, wired and tired ? Take the adrenal quiz to see how you score ….


Some of you may have read my posts about adrenal fatigue. If not, you might want to check them out here….



So many of us are living hectic lives, finding it hard to sleep and concentrate, feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and lacking resilience. It’s time to have a good look at how you are feeling and do something about it.

You may think that you are coping well with your busy stressful life but take a few minutes to complete this quiz and see what your numbers tell you.

Adrenal Stress Quiz

Score 1 beside symptoms you have had in the past, 2 for symptoms that happen occasionally, 3 for symptoms that occur quite often and 4 for symptoms that occur frequently. Add up the total score.

­ __Hormonal imbalances (e.g., thyroid problems, PMT, menopausal symptoms)
__Emotionally reactive – short fuse/quick to anger/easily unsettled
__Prolonged exposure to stress (job, family, illness, caregiving)
__Headaches or jaw pain
__Environmental or chemical exposure or sensitivities
__Low blood sugar / feel cranky when hungry
__Food allergies
__Poor concentration/memory problems /brain fog
__Low energy/excessive fatigue
__Racing thoughts especially when trying to sleep
__Dizziness upon standing
__Inflammatory conditions (arthritis, bursitis)
__Nervousness, depression, irritability, anxiety, or anger
__Shortness of breath/yawning a lot
__Cold hands and feet
__Low back pain or sore muscles
__Insomnia/frequent waking
__Heart palpitations
__Eyes sensitive to light
__Cravings: sugar, salt, coffee or other stimulants
__Alcohol intolerance
__Recurrent colds or infections
__Digestive problems or abdominal pains
__Weight gain or weight loss (unintentional)
__Sugar cravings – especially 
at a round 11am and 3pm
__Feeling wired but exhausted
__Waking up tired/unrefreshed
__Getting a second wind of energy around 6pm

Total Score

What your score indicates ….

Under 30 – You are doing really well. Good for you !

30 and 50:  Your adrenals are starting to feel the strain. It’s time to start looking at ways to reduce your stress levels.

50 and 80: It’s time to talk about starting some adrenal support supplements. You are past the point of being able to manage this on your own. You may need specific supplements and lifestyle changes to get back to a healthy score. The good news is that you have caught things at a manageable stage.

80 and 100: Your adrenals are suffering. You may want to consider how you can change your lifestyle, diet and circumstances to better support your health. Herbal medicines and nutritional supplements can help you kick start your way back to health. It is important that you address this now before things become more difficult to treat.

Over 100: You are suffering from adrenal fatigue and will require some longer term adrenal support to feel well again. It is important that you do something about this now not only to feel better but also to avoid the health risks associated with adrenal exhaustion.

There are a number of health issues related to untreated adrenal fatigue including :
poor immune function, increased risk of allergies, higher rates of auto immune disease, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia and sleep disturbance, hormonal imbalances, premenstrual syndrome symptoms, menopause symptoms, higher rates of cold/flu and infection.

If you feel concerned about adrenal fatigue or would like to improve your numbers call and book an appointment to talk about the many simple ways I can help you feel good again and reduce your risk of adrenal related health problems.

The worship of busyness


I’ve been noticing lately that when I see people and say ‘ How are you ?’ the stock response is “I’m just so busy”.  I don’t know if that’s how they are actually feeling – its a knee jerk kinda thing. What ever happened to feeling great, a bit under the weather, a little bit blue, excited, pensive, nervous, happy ?….. I am wondering how and when this new religion of relentlessly full days, never ending to-do lists and the glorification of not a minutes peace came to be. When did busy replace all the possibilities of how we feel and move through the world ?

No doubt we all want to feel like we are leading full, meaningful and valuable lives. Sometimes the frantic kick of adrenalin we feel can be mistaken for a sense of purpose – like a validation that anyone who feels this overwhelmed must surely be doing important stuff.

When I look at the people I admire – the ones who smile a lot, lead meaningful lives, who contribute, who chose what they do while still considering the people around them, who have time for their friends and family, who make you feel that you matter, who have their values and priorities sorted – they are the ones who have opted out of the culture of busy. They are actually quite busy people but its not something they complain or tell you about with a withering sigh. They just enjoy the things they have chosen to engage in so its not busyness to them – its just having a good life.

I am definitely a list person. I love a list to keep me on track, to declutter my head and to give me that giddy little thrill when you tick things off. It’s instant gratification and helps me remember what I have chosen to do. With alarming regularity I rewrite my list. I go through it and look at whether or not those things really need to be there and if I am just filling my days with blah instead of meaning. More often than not that list can be cut down to size without any loss of quality of life or sense of self. I don’t always recognise ‘busy’ and the overwhelmed feelings come but I’m trying hard to not let it gather too much steam.

There’s a lot of status these days which accompanies the frantic ones amongst us. It seems that if you’re not ambitious, driven, networking, always on to the next thing before this one has finished, booked up till next year, crazily running from one project ( which seems to also include our children, partners, friends, family) then you’re just not really trying.


Over the years I have seen lots of people in my clinic for lots of different reasons. When I ask about peoples levels of stress one common response is “Well, yeah I’m crazy stressed but that’s just life”. My question is ” Is it really ? Is that what you signed up for ? When you were little did you just long to be a time poor, stress head ?”

You don’t need me to tell you again the effects of stress on your body, mind, relationships, life expectancy, sleep patterns. You know its not good news  –  so why do we keep worshipping at the alter of busyness ?

I expect the answer lies somewhere in feeling validated, successful, important. I wonder if we are looking for some kind of cure for our existential questions of why we are here, why me and not someone else, what is my purpose ?

My son, who is 17, has taken to meditation in the last couple of years. He did this off his own back with no particular aim in mind other than to calm his thoughts. He comes up with some pearls of wisdom that have taken many others decades to understand. The only difference is that he is willingly, happily and productively carving out an hour or so a day to sit still, be quiet and think or maybe not think. I am so impressed by his commitment and the obvious benefits he gets from this practice. He has wisdom, kindness, light heartedness and compassion to spare. That may just be him but I think the stillness has allowed it to sit more easily and with less stress about what other people think than it does for most young men his age.

I’ve never been ambitious. I like space and time and options. I like quiet days and opportunities. That’s not to say that I don’t have a valuable life. I have raised three beautiful children, have a great marriage, a home and garden and chooks. I grow food, read books, go to the gym, cook, read, see friends …… I also work at a job I really like. It hasn’t always been this way and its not always as perfect as it sounds, in fact, sometimes it goes wildly out of shape. Sometimes the balance goes out the window and I find myself feeling stressed and worried and not at all myself. Sometimes I’d like to earn a bit more money, have a few more holidays, do other things. Sometimes I wonder if I should be a bit more giddy up but then I remember that I’m running my own race here and I don’t have to be caught up in the competition of it all. We can all decide on our own idea of success and aim for that.

The thing I have gained from not worshipping busyness is time and space. I am around when my kids want to talk. I am open to a change of plans. I have been to all the soccer games. I have rarely had to say to anyone in my family that I don’t have time for them. That’s real success to me.

Are you afraid or aware ?


I have just finished reading a great article where the writer was talking about her decision to approach her fears differently. Instead of saying “I’m afraid…” she is now saying “I’m aware.. ”  Small changes in words, big changes in intention.

It may seem like playing with semantics but it changes “I’m afraid of coming out to my family” to “I’m aware that my family may need some time to adjust and understand but ultimately they love me”. It changes “I’m afraid of making some changes in my life” to “I’m aware that in order to make changes I am going to have to make some commitments to myself”. It turns “I’m afraid of being alone” into “I’m aware that things can change and I am going to love and enjoy the people I care about while I can”. It takes you from a place of anticipating the bad stuff to living more consciously and in a more productive way.

In my work in a women’s health centre I hear it all the time… I’m afraid to leave my abusive partner, get off the drugs, come out to my family, admit that the abuse I suffered wasn’t my fault, change my living circumstances, take the steps I need to get better….. Insert your own brand of sadness and difficulty here. Perhaps this new approach combined with lots of support could turn some really difficult situations into an opportunity to get back on track.

How much more empowering is it to say “I’m aware that things could be better and these are the ways I’m going to go about changing things” rather than feeling stuck and scared. I know that it is not that simple but surely it’s a better place to start.

Granted, not everyone is dealing with such difficult issues but we all have things that hold us back and keep us from moving along in a self directed and productive way. I’m going to try it the next time I’m alone in the house at night !

What are you afraid / aware of ???

Helping young people with mental illness…..


I was reading an article a couple of days ago about the prevalence of mental health issues in adolescents. What struck me, and deeply saddened me, was the statistic that of all visits to health professionals by 13 – 21 year old people, almost 40% of them were for depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. And these are the kids who are actually seeking help… the number could rise significantly if we include unsupported, financially stressed and struggling kids and families.

A study by the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research showed that 28% of people in the 19 – 21 year old age bracket had had experience with mental illness at some point. The other disturbing fact was that their research found that these kids had major concerns about the stigma surrounding mental health issues and significantly overestimated the reaction of others. These concerns often prevented them from seeking help. We need to make it easier for our kids to get the help they need and talking openly and compassionately about mental illness is a good start.

At a time in your life when you are accutely aware of how you are perceived, when you are trying to work out who you are, when you are flooded with unattainable, unrealistic and often negative images it is little wonder that kids can feel reluctant to seek help or even to let someone know that they are struggling.

So what are the signs to look out for : 

Sleeplessness/ Insomnia
Changed behaviour – problems at school, lack of or excessive socialisation
Loss of interest in hobbies or sport
Concentration problems
Anger / Agitation
Sadness, hopelessness, tearfulness
Feelings of guilt
Lack of self worth
Difficulty making decisions
Excessive or inappropriate worrying
Loss of appetite or weight changes

It’s worth talking to your kids about these issues even if you feel that they are ok. When you look at the statistics and consider that nearly 1 in 3 kids is affected at some point it is highly likely that you have a child or know a child who may be struggling.

Early intervention is key to addressing the problem before it can take hold and take over. Seeing a naturopath is a great start – at NaturoCath Naturopathy you will find a compassionate listener and herbal and nutritional support.  Assessments can be done to check for potential physiological problems which may be driving the illness and a plan can be formulated to provide support such as counselling, advice and co-ordination of care with schools, GP’s or psychologists. This approach provides a multi faceted, supportive structure and reduces the likelihood of progression to antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.

If medications are already being used, or if it is necessary to go on to medications we can work co-operatively with GP’s and psychiatrists to ensure that the medications are used in the most effective way and are supported by diet and optimal nutrition.

Talk to your kids, let them know you care enough to have the conversation no matter how hard it is. Help them develop resilience and self worth. Most importantly, take the time to listen. It may be the most important conversation of your life.

Taking the stigma out of asking for help …


Why do we find it so difficult to ask for help ? Why is this such a stumbling block for so many of us ? It’s ironic that the people who find it hard to ask for help are often the type of people who care deeply about the welfare of others. Other people seem to have been raised on a diet of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps ” or being praised since they were small children for every act of independence. It is obviously a good thing to encourage children to do things for themselves but we need to balance that with the notion that there is no shame in asking for help when it’s beyond their ability.

It seems that we are becoming more and more focused on valuing the virtues of self reliance and autonomy. In good times these are great things but there may come a time when another kind of strength is more valuable. It takes courage, insight and a depth of self knowledge to know when it is time to accept the care of another.

If you knew someone was distressed, in trouble or in need of help wouldn’t you want to step up and help ? How many times have you said to someone in a difficult situation “why didn’t you come to me?” . It is important to try to remember that in allowing someone to help you provide them with a gift too. You give them the opportunity to show empathy and compassion, to express their humanity in a productive and helpful way. You allow them to share the burden and give them permission to ask for help when they need it. Allowing someone to be a trusted dependable friend and support is an honour worth bestowing. True friends or honestly caring professionals are honoured to help lighten your load.

Lena Horne said “It’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the way you carry it.” Letting someone help you carry the load for a while is no sign of weakness.

I often say to my clients who are dealing with tough times that the tears, exhaustion and sadness are not weakness or a sign of failure – they are simply signs that you have been brave, strong and trying hard for way too long. Struggling alone leaves you with no other choice than to grow less able to cope, taking the step to ask for some support is not only brave but smart.

If you, or someone you know could do with some help call me today on 02 45677104 or email info@naturocath.com.au