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.

 

 

 

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Blood tests come back normal but you still feel bad ….

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Does this scenario sound familiar to you ? You don’t feel well. Something doesn’t feel right in your body.  You go to the GP, get some blood tests done and they all come back within the ‘normal range’. The GP tells you everything is fine and that’s that. You go home feeling like it must be in your head. No one has taken how you feel seriously. You still feel crappy, tired, down, sore or sick but there’s no ‘evidence’ so nothing gets done about it. You are within the ‘acceptable level of health’ but is it acceptable to you ?

If I had a dollar for each time I looked at a set of blood results and saw that things were not, in fact, all ok, I would be a lot wealthier than I am. It is rare for me to see a completely normal, unremarkable set of bloods. There is almost always something out of kilter or at least off the mark enough to indicate where there may be a problem.

The ‘normal ranges’ set for most pathology tests are not accurate for everyone.  They are based on averages of a wildly diverse group of people. For instance, your iron results might look normal on paper but would you still feel they were accurate if I told you that they were based on a reference range sourced from a group of men or women ranging in age from 18 – 69 years with little consideration given to factors such as disease, hormone status, level of activity or specific diets which all impact on peoples ability to use and store iron ?

Same goes for thyroid function. Natural health practitioners estimate that 10% of adult women are in the sub-optimal or low functioning range yet the stated ‘normal range’ doesn’t back this up. Standard testing accepts a thyroid stimulating hormone range of    0.5 – 4.0 mIU/L.  Anything below 1.0 or above 2.0 rings alarm bells for me. People may have many, many signs of thyroid dysfunction but if the tests are ‘in range’ you go home without any support for what can be a very difficult health issue.

So if you are feeling below par and want to know why book your appointment, bring in your paperwork and lets find some answers and solutions.

 

 

The worship of busyness

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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.

socrates

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.