Have you wondered what heavy periods, fatigue, and heart palpitations all have in common?
You likely weren’t thinking about iron-deficient anemia.
Iron deficient anemia is characterized by low levels of iron and could be due to many causes, but is most often due to blood loss. For women experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding, low iron is a very common concern.
Iron is a mineral that makes up part of the oxygen-carrying part of a blood cell and therefore low levels of iron often lead to low levels of blood cells (because there isn’t enough iron to make the news ones) and may cause symptoms such as:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Heart palpitations and/ or fast heartbeat
- Shortness of breath (you may notice this while climbing the stairs or during normal daily activity)
- Pale skin
- Cold hands and feet
Anemia can be challenging to treat, especially when you are bleeding for 3-7 days each month, but it can be done! If anemia is left untreated it can lead to more severe complications such as irreversible heart damage and other organ damage.
Treatment with iron supplements often takes months to restore the iron stores within the body. If you are struggling with low iron there are several methods you can use to make the most of your iron supplements and prevent further loss of iron stores.
Test and Resolve Hormone Imbalances
Hormone testing should be the first step if you have heavy periods. Heavy or extended periods, also called menorrhagia, are characterized by soaking through one pad or tampon every hour for more than two hours. In this case, a hormonal imbalance is likely contributing to the excessive bleeding. Don’t forget to check thyroid hormones too, heavy periods can be caused by hypothyroidism as well.
Testing your hormones with advanced urine testing is a way to look at hormones from creation to degradation in the body. This testing by our centre is an easy home collection urine test that looks at 50+ hormonal and nutritional markers to assess other causes of heavy bleeding that can be contributing to iron deficiency anemia.
Reach out to us if you would like to learn more about your testing options!
Be diligent with taking your iron supplement
Ensuring that you and your doctor have chosen a good quality and easily absorbable iron supplement is only one part of the picture. You need to be extremely diligent in taking your iron supplement. As discussed above, most cases of iron deficiency anemia can take months to fully resolve- and that is in cases where the iron supplement is taken religiously!
If you are unable to tolerate iron supplements due to gastrointestinal distress, constipation or heartburn, your doctor may discuss iron infusions as a form of treatment.
Optimize your Iron Supplement
There are several ways in which you can make the most of the iron supplements you are taking and increase the absorption of iron, which for some can be a challenge.
#1. Eat a diet with plenty of iron-rich foods
Choose foods rich in heme iron for best absorption. Organic, wild, pasture-raised and grass-fed proteins such as:
- Red meat
*Pair these meats with veggies containing Vitamin C like broccoli, bell peppers, and tomatoes for best absorption
If you do not eat meat, you can also choose other sources of non-heme iron such as:
- Raisins and apricots (be wary of sugar-added varieties)
- Iron fortified grains and carbohydrates (although these should not make up the bulk of your iron intake)
#2. Avoid mixing Iron with Coffee or Tea
In the case of iron supplements, taking it at the same time (or within 2 hours of coffee or tea) is going to make it almost impossible for your iron to be absorbed! Be mindful of when you consume your supplements or eat your iron-rich foods.
#3. Take Iron with Vitamin C
Iron and vitamin C could be called best friends! Vitamin C can help to increase the absorption of iron and is also useful in the prevention of further anemia. Vitamin C can strengthen the blood vessels and help to prevent the heavy bleeding that can lead to anemia.
Some iron supplements contain enough Vitamin C to ensure optimal iron absorption, but we love the idea of taking a dedicated Vitamin C supplement to support overall health.
If you recognize any of the above symptoms in yourself or if you have heavy periods without symptoms of anemia, please reach out to our team of naturopathic doctors at the Hormone Rebalance Centre. We can help you rebalance your hormones, optimize your nutrition and find the root cause of your anemia!