If you’ve been feeling unusually tired, struggling with concentration, feeling dizzy, getting leg cramps, feeling low on energy or having trouble sleeping, you might have an iron deficiency or even be anaemic.
When you’re low on iron, or anaemic, it can affect all aspects of your life leading to vitamin B12 deficiency and bone marrow suppression which impacts red blood cell production and overall health.
What is anaemia
Anaemia is one of the most common disorders to affect the blood, which is part of the fluid that supplies nutrition and oxygen to every part of the body and transports waste materials which are eliminated out of the body.
Anaemia can mean there is a decrease in the number of red blood cells or a reduction in the quantity of haemoglobin in the blood; it can also be a sign of deformities in the haemoglobin molecules in the blood which affect their ability to carry oxygen.
Iron deficiency is the most common form of anaemia and often caused by not getting enough, or being able to absorb, iron in the diet. Infants, toddlers, elderly and pregnant women are most susceptible to this type of anaemia as they have high iron requirements during this period of life.
There are also other forms of anaemia such as megaloblastic anaemia, when the red blood cells are large – this is caused by vitamin B12 and folate deficiency; or haemolytic anaemia, caused by a genetic or chronic disease like Leukaemia or a bone marrow disorder.
Treating anaemia and iron deficiency
When I see clients it’s very helpful when they come with their bloods done, because this reinforces their clinical belief in what we can pick up in an Ayurvedic pulse reading.
In finding a treatment to these imbalances, it’s first important to understand where the problem arose in the first place. We are all about treating the cause.
In Ayurveda, anaemia and low iron comes from a weak agni (digestive fire) and the formation of ama (toxins) as well an imbalance of pitta dosha in the body, aggravated by vata.
This is often caused by eating foods that are too sour, salty, hot or pungent; foods that aren’t right for your body type; foods are that are not compatible at the same time (such as eating milk and fish together); and repressed feelings of anxiety, fear, anger or grief.
More than just taking a good iron supplement
When people are iron deficient in the West, there’s a belief that the best thing you can do is eat a big steak. That’s not necessarily the case. Actually, you’ll be better placed making a bone broth, which pulls out the nutrients from the meat. This is much easier for the body to digest and absorb the protein (the meat can actually be discarded).
When treating, first of all, agni needs to be re-kindled so it can support proper digestion and get the fat in your body working better to facilitate absorption and the liver working to build red blood cells.
Rakta dhatu - how our red blood cells are formed
Rakta dhatu refers directly to the blood - the red blood cells, tendons and bile. But it’s a whole lot more than blood, it’s also the main fire of the body, which is responsible for invigorating the mind and body. When rakta dhatu is healthy you’ll feel passionate, sharp, focused and able to hit your goals; when its in excess, heat in the body increases and there may be inflammation issues; when depleted the body will feel cold and stiff and mentally, you won’t be very focused or sharp. These are often the first signs of iron deficiency.
Rakta dhatu also originates in the liver. When it’s low, the qualities of pitta dosha are weak and you might feel cold (at this point your body will hold on to heat causing constipation, reduced urination and sweat), this comes with a pale, or dusty grey complexion and a sense of confusion - again early signs you should look out for as we are all about treating the cause and not the symptoms. The earlier you catch a problem, the quicker and easier it is to treat.
Increased rakta dhatu for a long period of time can become intense and cause burn out. Your body will find it difficult to hold on to heat, it becomes cold and easily tired and worn out. Now it becomes a vata imbalance as a result of pushing yourself too hard.
Nourishing the seven tissues
Ayurveda describes seven dhatus, or tissues, that are built sequentially over 36 days. This really brings to the life the phrase, ‘you are what you eat’.
First the food you eat is digested by agni (digestive fire) with the waste excreted, next the usable portion passes through the liver, further broken down into elements. The first tissue formed is rasa dhatu (plasma) and a small amount of less refined ojas along with waste is released. Rasa represents the fluids (extracellular and intracellular parts) of the body and is responsible for nourishing and strengthening the blood. Once the digestion process is complete, it gets converted into a liquid and is transformed into blood tissue.
When the rasa, or plasma, is refined it becomes rakta dhatu (blood tissue). This is also responsible for nourishing the body by carrying macro- and micro-nutrients to the body-cells and tissues through the circulatory system or blood vessels.
Next it travels through the rest of the tissues mamsa dhatu (muscle tissue), medha dhatu (fat tissue), asthi dhatu (bone tissue), majja dhatu (nerve tissue), shukra dhatu (reproductive fluid) the most refined tissue in the body with the most accumulated ojas, then on to the final product, supreme ojas which nourishes the body and is the seat of all health.
I’ve written a whole post on the seven dhatus, which goes into much more detail on this vital aspect of health. You can read more about it here.
Treating low iron, blood issues and the seven tissues
When iron levels are low, or you’re feeling foggy headed and unable to kick goals, or burnt out, the best place to start is with a detox, as this will re-boot your system. We suggest a full – detox and re-set to support all the digestion and elimination of toxins and the ability to absorb and provide nourishment for the body. If you know you are not reaching your potential, you may be only 28 day away from being your vibrant self.
We have a 28-day program starting in September, tailored to treat all these of issues. You can find out more about the benefits of doing a longer detox like this here.
In general, even if I don’t have any major health issues, I like to do two detoxes a year - the best time is when the seasons change, with our next 28 day re-set program starting on August 30. The detox is fully online, with one-on-one support and participants from around the world. There are a few places left, if you’re interested come join us, you won’t regret it. Here’s the link for more information and to secure your spot.
In the meantime, you will do well to look closer at your diet – ensuring it’s light but nourishes the tissues. Foods that are high in iron include: raisins (soaked overnight) eaten in the morning with porridge helps with anaemia and also increasing rasa data (formation of blood); apples (cooked for better digestion), pomegranate, spinach, kale, fenugreek, date, onions, figs and celery are also great.
Try to avoid tea and coffee as this hampers the absorption of iron. Working in the hot sun or too much exercise and staying up late can also aggravate pitta.
Fabulous information. Thanks Jo. Looking forward to starting the 28 day program in a couple of weeks now.