“Hello, we’re calling to alert you to a flag on your recent blood work.”
My face quickly flushed as I processed that, and thought, “what?!”
“Your Serum Iron and Iron Saturation are very low.”
In other words, I was anemic.
Well, crud, I thought. That wasn’t what I was expecting.
Anemia is never a first line problem. It is always a secondary condition. If you aren’t struggling with heavy menstrual cycles or a trauma of some form with heavy bleeding then there is one major unexpected (but very common) reason you might be anemic:
Low Stomach Acid.
Quite simply, stomach acid converts iron from your food into ferrous iron, what you find in your blood.
With healthy levels of stomach acid, the stomach also has a very plush, thick mucous wall with a dual purpose: it acts as a barrier to the high acidity and acts as a sponge for certain nutrients. In particular, ferrous iron.
Ferrous iron is absorbed in part in the stomach and then in the duodenum, but only if the HCl in the stomach was sufficient enough to cleave off the iron and convert it to ferrous iron. Without this step, you could be eating all the red meat in the world and it wouldn’t matter.
But why do so many of us struggle with low stomach acid?
If you are on antacids, struggle with heartburn, been under stress lately or just have slow digestion, then it is likely you have low stomach acid. With low stomach acid you are at risk of being anemic too.
Digestion is a process that only happens when we are relaxed and calm. Eating in the car, at your desk, or while scrolling Facebook does not count as relaxed and calm.
Eating isn’t just a task that needs to be crossed off your to do list, it is an act of self-care. It is an act of nourishing you to give you the energy you need to get through your morning, afternoon or whatever is next.
At your next meal, take 5 deep breaths before you begin to eat. Take a look at what is on your plate, the colors, textures and smell the deliciousness before taking that first bite. This helps switch you from go-go-go to rest and digest.
Every time something goes wonky with my health, I try to take a step back and assess how I am living my life right now. Calm and supported with lots of positive self-talk? Um, probably not. More likely, rushed and frantic with less than kind words for myself. After receiving those results I took two steps to improve my anemia:
Focus on digestion.
I started taking some HCl with my meals again and slowed down while I ate to ensure I was digesting well. HCl is a little parachute of digestive support. It is so helpful to take when under stress, while travelling or just for those occasional heavy meals. I always keep some HCl on hand.
Instead of taking some artificial form of iron that can throw the body off in terms of its natural balance of minerals, I chose to take dessicated liver capsules. As much as possible, I like taking food based supplements because they are more naturally balanced and it is easier for the body to absorb and utilize the nutrients. Dessicated liver is high in iron, but also in many of the nutrients needed to balance iron in the body. Win-win.
By my next blood panel, I had returned to normal levels of ferrous iron in the blood. No iron pills necessary. No more red flags. Phew!