Natural Ways to Avoid Anemia

Why you should avoid inorganic iron

When anemia in pregnancy is diagnosed, iron pills are the go-to solution for most prenatal care providers. The trouble is, these things don’t work very well and should be avoided due to a potential aggravation of inflammatory conditions. According to Dr. Nicole Dinezza, organic iron (from food) and inorganic iron (from supplements like iron pills or cast iron pans) are processed differently in the intestinal tract.

 Organic sources of iron require an additional (beneficial) processing by the liver before being fully metabolized. An increasing amount of research suggests that an excess of inorganic iron in the diet is responsible for encouraging a cascade of inflammatory conditions (1).  Dr. Lawrence Wilson MD discusses more about the dangers of inorganic iron and the toxicity of iron added to processed foods and supplements in this article.

The rub with all of this is that you can be faithfully taking iron pills or other supplements containing iron and still remain anemic due to the lack of bio-availability of inorganic iron. Not only are they ineffective, iron pills frequently cause uncomfortable side effects such as constipation, diarrhea, leg cramps, and/or nausea. In addition, black stools are a frequent occurrence for those who take iron pills, one indication of how indigestible these things are! Such side effects do not occur when consuming food sources naturally high in organic iron (discussed below).

This is why when your prenatal care provider suggests iron pills for a low hematocrit, you might want to consider doing what I did:  Smile, politely decline, and embrace the natural alternatives that will provide bio-available, organic iron to your diet instead.

Natural ways to relieve Anemia in pregnancy

I suffered from low iron with all three of my pregnancies. Fortunately, it only cropped up late in the third trimester each time and was easily resolved with a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses every day stirred into a glass of grass-fed milk. Blackstrap molasses is naturally very high in organic iron and a great food to naturally boost blood levels of this mineral. Don’t worry about those who say that consuming molasses with milk will interfere with iron absorption. 

The research is far from conclusive on this topic with some sources suggesting that milk does not interfere with iron absorption at all (2). I can personally attest to the milk/molasses approach working very effectively for me.

According to the book The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Childcare, an easy way to take 1-2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses each day is in a mug of hot water. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil (virgin or expeller pressed) and 1/2 teaspoon of ground or fresh ginger if you are in need of a pick-me-up (who doesn’t during pregnancy?). This healthful beverage also makes a good coffee substitute during pregnancy as well if you are trying to avoid caffeine.

Other natural ways to combat anemia in pregnancy include:

  • Eat liver, in moderation. Liver is very high in organic iron. Liver also contains plentiful natural Vitamin A which is necessary for proper absorption of iron. If you can’t stomach liver for whatever reason, desiccated liver powder capsules are an excellent alternative.  Be wary of some desiccated liver brands that remove the fat which denatures the product. You only want desiccated liver with nothing added and nothing removed!
  • Don’t be scared of red meat. A juicy grass-fed steak is good for improving iron levels and is not going to harm your health.
  • Avoid refined carbs, sugar, and antibiotics (and the Pill before getting pregnant) as this encourages gut imbalance and the development of abnormal gut flora. According to Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, an unbalanced gut can frequently thwart efforts to resolve anemia naturally because a particular group of pathogenic bacteria that thrive in this type of intestinal environment love iron! These strains (Actinomyces spp., Mycobaterium spp., Corynebacterium spp., and others) consume whatever iron a person gets from the diet leaving them deficient and sometimes anemic. Iron pills actually make the problem worse as they provide food for these pathogenic strains making their hold in the gut ever stronger with no resolution of the anemia and sometimes worsening of the condition.
  • A tablespoon of blackstrap molasses every day stirred into a glass of grass-fed milk.
  • If the blackstrap molasses approach doesn’t appeal to you, Floradix makes a product with organic iron and herbs to assist absorption (sources). It also serves as a digestive aid. The dosage is .34 ounces (10 mL) twice each day. It can also be used throughout pregnancy as a preventative for anemia, not just when the condition has already become a problem.
  • Eat plenty omega rich food, e.g. seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds, raw nuts (such as pecans and macadamia), nut oils (such as walnut, cashew and almond oil), oily fish, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil and olives, hempseed oil and chia seeds. Oils must be cold pressed.
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