Fatigued? Maybe It’s Iron Deficiency

During pregnancy a woman needs a little more of every nutrient to make a baby but her requirements for iron are even higher. A mother’s blood volume increases 50% during pregnancy. Since 70% of our body’s iron is found in our red blood cells, you can see that a pregnant women’s need for iron is greatly increased.

But it’s not just pregnant women that need more iron. According to the CDC iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States. It affects pregnant women, children, and men as well. It is most common in those with increased need for iron such as pregnant women, children and babies who are growing rapidly, anyone who has lost a lot of blood, and those who eat foods high in anti-nutrients such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, and unfermented soy, coffee, and chocolate (aka raw cacao).

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling weak
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizzy spells
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Itchy skin
  • Heart murmurs
  • Repeated infections such as colds
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Disrupted sleep
The most common symptom of iron deficiency is fatigue, which occurs because the body does not have enough iron to carry oxygen to all the parts of the body. Iron deficiency is very common in children. Children who are fed cows milk at an early age or who are not breastfed are particularly susceptible.

Symptoms of Low Iron in Children

  • Poor appetite
  • Slowed growth and development
  • Behavioral problems

How to Quickly and Effectively Boost Iron

The solution given by doctors to boost iron and correct iron deficiency anemia is to take iron supplements and to increase iron containing foods in the diet. While popular, supplements are not the best route to take. Iron supplements often contribute to constipation by altering gut flora. They also don’t work very well; very little of the iron in a supplement is actually absorbed.

Increasing iron containing foods in the diet, then, is the way to go. But even here there are a couple caveats. Vegetarian sources of iron like spinach and kale do not contain heme iron which is the type best absorbed by the body. Heme iron is found in animal sources like liver, chicken, and beef. Eating heme iron and non-heme iron together increases the absorption of the non-heme iron. So eating beef with spinach would be a great way to get more iron in your blood.

To further the absorption of iron, you should also eat vitamin C. For a comprehensive list of iron containing foods, check the list at the bottom of this page.

Cooked Meat Reduces Iron Solubility

Iron needs to be soluble in order to be absorbed. Cooking greatly reduces solubility. Since people don’t generally eat meat raw, most of us aren’t absorbing all of the iron that we eat, as Roger Purchas of Massey University in New Zealand noted in his research on iron availability in meat.

” Comparisons of meat cooked to various final temperatures and for different times showed that much of the soluble-haem iron was quickly converted to an insoluble form with cooking, and with more severe cooking some of the haem iron was converted to the less desirable non-haem form. The extents to which these changes are reflected in a lower bioavailability remain to be determined. Interestingly the amount of iron lost in juices released during cooking was highest at a lower cooking temperature (60°C vs 80 or 98°C) apparently because the slower cooking meant the haem iron remained soluble for longer. This loss in cooking juices was up to 16 percent of the total iron in some cases, which suggests that devising ways of retaining the cooking juices from meat may be beneficial with respect to iron intakes.”

Traditional peoples all over the world eat some of their meats raw. The iron boost they receive from it may be one reason for this. I too eat much of my meat raw. The damaged iron may be one reason why I feel better when I eat raw meat.

While raw liver is super gross to most normal people out there, my favorite and most effective way to boost iron is by drinking a liver and lemon smoothie. Liver is very high in iron and the lemon adds vitamin C to help absorb it. The smoothie is not yummy, but it’s a fast way to get 1/4 lb of liver in your body relatively painlessly. I don’t like the taste or texture of liver, so anything to make it quick is ideal for me.

Disclaimer: Remember, unless you’re very confident in your stomach’s ability to kill germs, i.e. you have strong stomach acid, your immune system is strong, and you eat fermented foods and have a healthy gut, you should always eat only previously frozen grassfed and free range fresh meats raw. Personally, I don’t worry about it anymore. I started eating meat raw 5 or 6 years ago and am beyond confident that humans are perfectly well designed to handle raw meats. I’ve never been sick from hundreds of pounds of raw and undercooked meats and fish. In fact, exposure to bacteria only makes me stronger.

Iron Deficiency Blood Tests

Blood tests can be deceiving. A standard iron deficiency blood test can easily miss-diagnose anemia. While blood tests do test the levels of iron in the blood, if you eat a steak before the test, the test will show adequate iron. So it is important to pay attention to symptoms along with the results of a blood test.