Iron Deficiency Anemia? – Boost Your Ferritin Levels Naturally

Red Blood Cells

- The Ayurvedic treatment for iron deficiency -

Iron is a mineral that serves several important biological functions, its main one being to carry oxygen throughout your body via your red blood cells (1). 
Iron deficiency has become the biggest mineral deficiency in the world. (3)
About 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women, and 3% of men do not have enough iron in their bodies. (2)
Adolescent girls are most vulnerable, due to increased iron demand, menstrual blood loss, infection, etc. (4)
Disorders of iron metabolism are among the most common diseases of humans and are related to a broad variety of diseases and clinical manifestations.
The solution for iron deficiency, in many cases, is to consume more foods high in iron. (2)
Iron is an essential nutrient, meaning you must get it from external sources like food and/or quality supplementation (read about effective and safe supplementation below). 
Red Blood Cells

What is Haemoglobin, Red Blood Cells and Ferritin?

Serum iron - the amount of iron in your blood.
Haemoglobin - The body transports oxygen to cells via a protein called hemoglobin, which is mostly iron.
Low iron levels mean you’re unable to deliver oxygen or energy to the cells of your body. This is called anaemia, which means “without oxygen.”
Woman yawning
Symptoms of anaemia include:
  • Tiredness / fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Low immunity
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Pale skin (in Ayurveda, the name for anemia is “Pāṇḍu” पाण्डु  which means “pale white”)
  • Joint pain
  • Cognitive decline
  • Mood instability
  • Fast heart rate. (5, 6)
Often these symptoms occur even when iron levels are still in the “normal range” of a blood test.
This may indicate a more common issue, ferritin deficiency. 
Serum ferritin (stored iron) - a protein that stores iron and releases it into the bloodstream as the body requires. 
This is the main factor to consider when assessing your iron panel and blood analysis.
Low Ferritin Levels are associated with: (7)
Total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) - How much transferrin (a protein) is free to carry iron through your blood. If your TIBC level is high, it means more transferrin is free because you have low iron.

Blood Testing for Iron - What are the Ideal Ferritin Levels?

Average normal ferritin levels range from 12 to 300 nanograms per milliliter of blood (ng/mL) for males and 12 to 150 ng/mL for females. (8)
Remember “normal” in standard blood tests is based on the “norm” or average of an unhealthy population. 
Most experts agree ideal ferritin levels are somewhere between 30 and 60 ng/mL. (9)
Above 80-100ng/ml is dangerous (see high iron and hemochromatosis below), and below 20 is too low.

The Relationship Between Vitamin C and Iron

Vitamin C boosts the absorption of iron, so low Vitamin C levels may be a causative factor of low ferritin levels. (10,11,12)
Fruit, veggies and herbs to boost Vitamin C levels:
  • Davidson Plum (Native Australian plum)
  • Citrus fruits
  • Papaya
  • Broccoli
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Mango
Anand Sidhi Yogi, an Ayurvedic herb that helps treat iron deficiency

Ways to Naturally Boost Iron & Ferritin

The Ayurvedic treatment for iron deficiency consists of a holistic approach that will ultimately ensure that you not only incorporate proper sources of iron into your diet & lifestyle, but that your body also develops an enhanced capacity to assimilate iron from these sources.

Iron Increasing Foods

Heme iron sources (animal products, easier to absorb iron), from highest to lower concentration: (1)
  • Oysters, mussels
  • Blood Cockle (iron levels range from 227.85 - 247.98 ppm) - This is very high source of iron so caution even needs to be taken. (16)
  • Goat or chicken liver
  • Sardines
  • Turkey
  • Ham
  • Fish like wild salmon
Oysters served on a plate with lemon slides
Non-heme iron sources (not as easily absorbed, but is possible to obtain sufficient iron), from highest to lower concentration:(1,13)
  • Moringa leaves (can used dried leaves or powder if fresh is not available). Do not cook for maximum iron, just sprinkle on and mix into hot dish.
  • Spinach (lightly cooked, when raw, iron is blocked by oxalates). Organic and fresh as possible is best.
  • Amaranth leaves (lightly cooked)
  • Seeds - pumpkin, sesame, squash and sunflower seeds.
  • Cooked beans and lentils (e.g. kidney beans, white beans, chickpeas, black beans)
  • Firm tofu (beware that soy is a phytoestrogen and may cause hormonal imbalance)
  • Dried figs (careful those with high blood sugar)
  • Baked potato with skin (organic. Beware, increases vata).
  • Plantain (green banana) cooked
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Dried fruits (apricots, raisins, figs, dates, prunes etc)
  • Nuts (peanuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, roasted almonds, roasted cashews)
  • Warrigal greens (New Zealand spinach)
  • Broccoli
  • Pomegranate, papaya
  • Figs (fresh), kiwi fruit
Related article: Which leafy green vegetable has the highest amount of iron? (article coming soon!)

Soak Your Beans and Lentils

When you soak beans, a compound called phytic acid is released and removed from the bean or lentil.
If you do not soak the beans, this compound stays in the bean, and when ingested in the gastro-intestinal-tract, it latches onto iron and removes iron from the body.
Related article: Phytic Acid in Beans

Cooking in Iron Cookware

This is actually a significant way to increase iron in the body.
And of course, it is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy for low iron!
When you cook food in iron vessels, it reacts with the metal surface and the iron gets released in the food.
“Food prepared in iron pots increases the haemoglobin concentration of anaemic/iron deficient individuals.” (14)
Foods that have a higher moisture content absorb the most iron.
For example, one study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that the iron content in 100 grams of spaghetti sauce jumped from 0.6 mg to 5.7 mg after being cooked in a cast iron pot! (15)
That iron load is equivalent to about 200 grams of cooked spinach!
So instead of adding 200 grams of cooked spinach into your lunch-time pasta for 52% of your recommended daily iron, just cook the pasta in an iron pot! (or add the spinach to double the iron content).
Other factors that boost the iron content of foods include:(15)
  • Longer cooking time in the iron vessel
  • Frequent stirring
  • Cooking iron-rich foods in an iron vessel.
  • Use cast iron, rather than the glazed iron.
A cast Iron pan
Acidic foods may absorb more iron also, however sour or acidic foods may react with the iron to create an unpleasant metallic taste. 
Iron vessels are also commonly used in certain Ayurvedic herbal preparations.

Related article: Cooked vs. Raw Food Diet: Transcend Food Fads | Dylan Smith #025

Self-Pulse: Self-Referral Technique and Healing Mechanism to Optimise Iron in the Body

Self-pulse reading
Utilising the self-referral technique of Ayurvedic self-pulse reading can be an intimate and effective tool to gain insight into the levels and sufficiency of your own mineral levels and tissue health.
It is particularly useful to use while you experiment with various interventions like herbs, foods or cooking methods to monitor and gauge the changes in your pulse and hence, the changes in your mineral levels.
You may also share your self-research and insights with your Vaidya (Ayurvedic physician) to refine the process.
Self-pulse is a profound way to gain an insight into your mineral levels that has the potential to be far deeper and holistic than standard blood tests.

Ayurvedic Herbs that Boost Iron

When it comes to the Ayurvedic treatment for iron deficiency, herbal formulas become a key component in the holistic approach. 

Here's a list of our top Ayurvedic formulas to increase iron levels and enhance the body's natural capacity to absorb & assimilate iron from food:

Iron Mineral - The Ayurvedic Way: Loha Bhasma (Iron Ash)
Bhasma is the highly acclaimed Ayurvedic process of purifying a mineral or metal, then calcifying it into ash, then utilising it in a herbal formulation for internal use.
This is a highly advanced and extensive process which creates an end-product that is very different to the original elemental metal.
Bhasmas have the ability to penetrate certain parts of the body very well.
For example, iron molecules are too large to enter the cells, but the bhasma is reduced to nano-particle size, so it can enter the cellular level. The body actually absorbs it effectively.
The purification method (śodana saṃskāra) of minerals is given extreme importance in Ayurveda. It not only makes the mineral and metal more hygienic and safe, but enhances the potency.
One of my favourite classical Ayurvedic formulations that involve loha bhasma (iron ash) is Punarnavadi Mandura.
This herbal preparation promotes cellular re-incarnation, revitalises and restores iron and the lymph system (rasa and rakta dhatu).

Blood Toner (Ayurvedic Raktda herb formula)
Raktda is an ayurvedic supplement that helps maintain optimum hemoglobin levels naturally, boosts energy, and is effective for iron deficiency/anemia.
It enhances your bodies ability to absorb iron naturally from your diet.
This formula is safe (and effective) for pregnant woman.
A wonderful benefit of quality Ayurvedic herbs including iron bhasma is mostly they do not cause constipation or have side effects.
Rakda, an Ayurvedic herb that is very efficient to treat iron deficiency

Iron Supplementation (Nutraceuticals)

Iron supplementation is normally not the answer (long term) and will only lead to more oxidised iron in our system and further iron accumulation in the liver.
Just like iron rusts (oxidises), the same happens in your body with excess iron, which accelerates ageing and tissue degeneration.
Furthermore, iron nutraceutical supplements aren’t the easiest to digest. The liver may find it hard to metabolise and it may cause some digestive issues like constipation.
Iron Infusions:
While iron infusions can provide rapid relief when someone is very iron deficient, it usually doesn’t fix the underlying problem.
In my clinic, I see patients who have been recommended or received iron infusions when their blood markers have not been so dangerously low. 
A potential side effect of iron infusions is the strain and pressure on the kidneys. The kidneys will have to process and eliminate iron which has not undergone proper purification. At least when supplementing with tablets, the un-purified iron gets metabolised by the liver. In the case of intravenous supplementation, it is bypassing the liver and digestive process.
We need to look at why the body is not utilising iron properly
Bio-available copper and other minerals play a role. As do hormones, digestion, and absorption capacity. 
I find assessing the overall metabolism, hormones and energy function of the individual with Ayurveda more effective than a reductionist approach of getting caught up with the numbers and levels of specific minerals.
Iron supplementation can be helpful to acutely address iron depletion or deficiency, but please consider using herbal support, diet and optimising digestion to increase iron levels first.

Jyotish (Vedic Astrology)

Iron (loha) is associated with Saturn (Shani).
Wearing an iron ring on your middle finger (check with your local Jyotishi if this is right for you), using iron vessels to cook with, donating iron or using iron in other ways may enhance and pacify Saturn energy.

To learn more about the effects that Jyotish can have on your health check out "Jyotish: Celestial Organisation of Life with Vedic Astrology | Blaine Watson #041"

Sings of the Zodiac

Caution: HIGH Iron Levels

Excess iron in most cases is even more harmful than low iron and more common!
Hemochromatosis - the term for when your body absorbs too much iron from the foods you eat, can be toxic, cause free oxidative damage and even if overdosed can even be life-threatening.
Always get a blood test before starting any iron supplementation.
Hemochromatosis Treatment:
Luckily, an effective treatment for hemochromatosis is very simple and free - donate blood according to your levels. This may have to be done regularly throughout the year.
One Ayurvedic treatment which also helps plus helps work at the root level is rakta mokṣana (“blood liberation”) by blood-letting treatments like leech therapy. 
Turmeric in high amounts is also an effective chelator of iron, which can be used when iron is elevated. (9) Note, those with low iron should not reduce turmeric, it will actually help build blood when you need it, or clean the blood when you need that instead.
How do you balance your iron levels? Comment below!

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