Saturday, June 7, 2008


This post-surgery anemia business is far more complicated than it first seemed. You think - okay, my iron levels are low, so I'll just take iron pills and eat some spinach.

Not so much.

The first thing I learned was that you have to take iron supplements with Vitamin C or your body won't absorb them. My doctor never mentioned this when she told me to take the iron; I got this information from a friend. So, one more pill to take.

Then, I decided to look up information on foods with high iron content so I could be sure I was eating right. I was surprised to learn that not only there is a list of foods that enhance iron absorption, but there is also a list of foods that block iron absorption. These include sweet potatoes, red wine, soy and spinach.

What? Spinach inhibits iron absorption? Isn't it supposed to be chock full of irony goodness? Well, it is, but it also contains an acid that blocks iron absorption. In order to absorb the iron in spinach, you have to eat it with iron absorption enhancing foods, such as meat, tomatoes, and Vitamin C-rich fruits.

Note to self: people put strawberries, oranges and bacon in spinach salad for a reason, not just because it makes the salad look pretty. Go figure.

Not surprisingly, the iron that is most easily absorbed by our bodies is found in meat, poultry and fish. Making it extra difficult for vegetarians.

So, I took my iron supplements with Vitamin C like a good girl for a few weeks and...nothing happened. I didn't feel any better. I was still exhausted and sick all the time. What the heck was going on? Was there something else horribly wrong with me?

On Monday, I went to see my naturopath and mentioned it to her. She asked what else I was taking the iron supplements with, and I named off my arsenal of capsules and pills.

"You have to make sure that you don't take calcium and iron supplements together. The calcium competes with the iron for absorption and the calcium always wins. Then, the iron is just this toxin floating around your body."

In other words, all that iron I had been taking these past few weeks was not absorbed, even though I was taking it with Vitamin C, because the calcium blocked the iron.


On the plus side, I started taking the iron away from the calcium on Tuesday, and by Friday, I had already started feeling better. So, there's hope for me yet.


Kate said...

When I was severely anemic, my doctor told me that it takes months, like six months at least, to replenish iron in your body if you're deficient. Sadly, you can become anemic very quickly, but it takes a long time for the stores to build up again. Just one more aspect of your recovery you'll have to be patient about!

Bella said...

Thanks for letting me know that, Kate. I had no idea it took so long, but it makes me feel a lot better to know that my feeling crappy has a reason behind it, you know?

In the meantime, I've started eating meat again - just when I crave it and in moderation. I figure that if my body's craving something, it's for a reason, and it is easier to absorb iron from animal sources as well.


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