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A few times a week I see another student who comes to class and tells me they have anemia and thus are tired, dizzy, etc. in their daily life as well as during Hatha Yoga practice.  As a vegetarian, I have been diagnosed with Anemia twice in my life and have found ways to come out of it as well.  It can be a long process, but the life gain is so worth it all!

In support of all of you who also have this most common nutritional deficeit, here is what I have learned:

There are multiple causes of Anemia and thus multiple versions as manifested.  The most common, and the type I’ll refer to is the result of normal to excessive blood loss and insufficient intake or absorption of iron.  This is called Iron Deficiency Anemia and is characterized by fatigue, paleness for your skin type, yellowing of the eyes, and shortness of breath during ‘normal’ exertion.  A blood test can give you the specific information to determine if you have Iron Deficiency Anemia, another type of Anemia, or don’t have it at all.  In the U.S. 20% of women who are childbearing age have Iron Deficiency Anemia.  Less than 2% of men do.  All this is from Wikipedia.

What follows is what I do about it from a holistic health approach.

The first thing that happens if diagnosed within the Western medicine system for Anemia is a prescription/recommendation for Iron pills in some form.  There are several things usually not told to these patients:

  • Iron is absorbed with the help of Vitamin C at the rate of 5mg per dose maximum.  Most pills have 50-60 times that dose to make them look impressive.  Your body does not absorb this and thus Iron pills are famous for affecting digestion in a negative/slowing down way. A high rate of Iron absorption (even from food) is 25%.  It’s much less for pills (another reason for the higher dose).
  • The US recommended Iron intake for women age 11-50 is 18mg.  Thus you will need to make an effort to eat something high in Iron at least three times a day to both reach the intake level as well as actually absorb it!
  • Calcuim inhibits Iron absorption and should not be taken at the same time.  {Calcium works well with Magnesium and Zinc and is often seen in that combo now.  It is also recommended to combine Calcium with a meal that includes fat and if you take vitamin D as a suppliment, do so at the same time.}
  • It takes 30 days for your body to go through a rebuild cycle of new blood cells.  These are the cells that will be benefiting from your nutritional intake.  They will not build more oxygen carrying (fatigue-fighting!) abilities unless you create the demand by exercising regularly.  My intuition tells me pranayama breathing is also good for this.

So that’s just if you are going to go the pill route! But, there are much better choices to make sure your nutritional intake is up to par.  I now combine whole food-based supplements with foods naturally higher in Iron and space them out throughout the day for maximum benefit.  I also continue to enjoy yoga and other exercise, even if it puts me to the point of breathing deeply, especially if it does, as this creates the demand for higher functioning red blood cells.

The supplements I currently take for my vegetarian and some dairy lifestyle are:

  • Floravital: a vegetable and fruit concentrated juice which is high in Iron, B vitamins, and includes rose hip for natural vitamin C.
  • Spirulina in pill form (for easy carrying along or counting).
  • Amazing Grass supplement drinks which are largely wheatgrass and delicious.

My favorite Iron rich snacks are:

  • 8mg ~1cup Dried Apricots with 2Tbl chocolate chips (dried peaches are even 2mg higher per cup.)
  • 2.2 mg ~3cups Popcorn with 2Tbl nutritional yeast

My favorite main meals that are great for Iron and vitamin combos are:

  • 5mg ~Scrambled egg with  1 cup chopped Kale (breakfast of champions!)
  • 9.3mg ~1.5 cups cooked Spelt ‘oat’ meal with 1 Tbl molasses (plus spelt has 10g protein/cup!)
  • 5mg ~1 cup Black or Kidney beans in a burrito
  • 5mg ~1 cup Lentils as Dahl. Yum!

Things I’m wary of:

  • ‘Fortified’ cereals
  • Iron pills in all their forms
  • Lists of recommended food that include things like beef but not kale, spelt, and beans!

I’d love to hear more of your favorites!