Anemia is a condition defined as a reduction of either red blood cells or hemoglobin in the bloodstream. This reduces the amount of oxygen readily accessible to the cells in the body, resulting in lower-functioning cells and less energy. Other common symptoms of anemia include dizzy spells, headaches, brain fog, cold hands and feet, pale skin, and general fatigue and weakness.
The condition can be broken down into three major categories: anemia due to excessive blood loss, excessive red blood cell destruction, or deficient red blood cell or hemoglobin production. The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency, but other possible causes include drug use, surgery, heavy menstrual bleeding, repeated pregnancies, liver damage, thyroid disorders, peptic ulcers, and deficiencies in other nutrients such as folic acid and vitamin B12. Anemia is most prevalent in women of childbearing age due to the blood loss caused by the menstrual cycle and an increased need for iron during pregnancy. Roughly 20% of women and 50% of pregnant women are deficient in iron.
Due to the many possible reasons as to why anemia could be present, the best approach is to define the root cause and go from there. However, since the root cause is often iron deficiency, as noted above, it’s important for women to pay special attention to this essential mineral. An iron-rich diet should be a top priority, and various herbs and supplements can be highly beneficial. Lifestyle factors can also play a part, such as getting regular exercise and adequate sleep. Read on for a complete guide on healing from (or preventing) anemia.
Holistic Practices that Cure Anemia
Get regular low-intensity exercise - Regular exercise is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle and it can also help to encourage the growth of red blood cells, so it’s especially vital to exercise regularly if you suffer from anemia. Finding the time and motivation to exercise while running on low energy can be a difficult task. Starting slow and working up from there is your best option.
Try: Start with a 15-30 minute workout of your choice, such as yoga, weight training, or a low-impact sport such as swimming or cycling. Simply walking is another great option that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Work with your body and don’t over-strain yourself.
Catch some z’s - Developing a proper sleep ritual is essential for dealing with the low energy and exhaustion caused by anemia. Though sleep is vital, too much can be harmful to your body, making you more exhausted than before. Aim to get 7-8 hours per night, which is the ideal amount for most people.
Extra tools for a good night's sleep: To develop a proper routine, follow the following tips an hour or two before bedtime: refrain from using technology, meditate (use an app such as Calm for guidance and support), drink a relaxing herbal tea such as chamomile, use relevant essential oils (lavender, bergamot, and cedarwood are great options in a bath, essential oil diffuser, or added as a few drops onto your pillowcase), and avoid large meals.
Yoni steaming - Including the practice of vaginal (or yoni) steaming into your self-care routine can have surprising benefits for reducing anemia. If you have a heavy flow during menstruation, this excessive blood loss can result in anemia. Yoni steaming can help to clear out built-up residue from your last menstrual period, helping the vagina in its self-cleansing processes and increasing circulation. Incorporating herbs like nettle & other tonifying herbs can help to rebuild your body and reduce heavy flow.
*Consult a practitioner before practicing yoni steaming at home. Yoni steaming should also not be practiced during menstruation or pregnancy.
Helpful Herbs & Supplements to help reduce Anemia
Nettle leaf : A source of iron and vitamin C, nettle is an ideal herb to incorporate into your daily diet, as it’s very efficient at fighting against iron deficiency anemia.
How to use : Drink as an infusion daily.
Yellow dock : A source of iron that can purify the bloodstream, yellow dock is also used to strengthen the entire body.
How to use : Best in tincture form.
Bilberry : With a high iron content, bilberry can also balance blood sugar levels and improve blood circulation.
How to use : Best in tincture or capsule form.
Dandelion : A blood purifier, dandelion is a rich source of readily-available iron and other nutrients such as potassium and zinc.
How to use : Drink as a tea or infusion every few days.
*Note: Speak with a nutritionist prior to supplementing with iron, as supplementation can be dangerous if not needed - always get your levels tested first. You may also need vitamin B12 and/or folic acid supplementation (in the form of folate), so be sure to inquire and to get tested.
Consuming vitamin C will enhance the absorption of nonheme iron (i.e. iron from plant-based sources rather than heme iron, which is from animal sources). Vitamin C-rich foods include bell peppers, broccoli, papaya, guava, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and dark leafy greens. Anytime you’re eating a nonheme iron source, include one or more of these in the same meal for maximum absorption. Liposomal vitamin C is easily absorbed by the body and can be taken daily.
Supplementing with probiotics can help to counteract iron deficiency since a healthy gut is essential to the proper absorption of nutrients. Include probiotic-rich foods into your daily diet, such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and miso, and supplement with a broad-spectrum probiotic for best results.
Top 10 Iron-Rich Foods
Below are the top 10 iron-rich foods to help battle anemia. Incorporating various heme (animal) and nonheme (plant-based) sources of iron into the diet is extremely important.
1. LIVER & GRASS-FED, ORGANIC RED MEAT
Eating liver is one of the best ways to achieve a healthy iron intake. Liver has high levels of heme iron, the dietary form of iron found in most animal proteins such as red meat, fish/seafood, and poultry. Heme iron is most readily absorbed into the bloodstream, as opposed to the nonheme iron found in plant-based foods. It’s said that beef liver has more than 600% of your daily requirement of iron, so it’s a must for anemics. Liver is also packed with vitamin B12, vitamin A, selenium, zinc, folate, and copper. Make sure to consume liver from grass-fed cows to reap all the wonderful benefits. All grass-fed, organic red meats - such as lamb and beef - are also rich in iron and are wonderful to include in your diet.
How to use : If you’re squeamish about the thought of consuming liver, you can mix it with other meats, spices, and fresh herbs to form burgers or patties where the flavor will be diluted. Bone broths, soups, and stews are other cooking methods you can use to add more liver and red meat to your diet.
Spinach is a nonheme iron source that also contains dietary fiber, vitamin K, zinc, and much more. Incorporating spinach into your regular diet, both raw and cooked, is an excellent way to raise iron levels. Swiss chard and kale are also good sources of nonheme iron.
How to use : Add to soups or salads, steam, or juice.
3. EGG YOLKS
Egg yolks not only contain a good amount of iron, but are also packed with other nutrients such as the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), folate, and calcium.
How to use : Eat the whole egg! Make omelettes, scrambles, or boil and eat as a snack.
4. KIDNEY BEANS
Beans are some of the greatest nonheme sources of iron. Kidney beans also contain copper, potassium, magnesium, and dietary fiber, making them an all-around healthy food to incorporate into your diet.
How to use : Add to soups or salads, or make a delicious bean chili or casserole.
5. RAW BEET GREENS
Raw beet greens are packed with nutritional value and contain a great source of iron. They also contain vitamin K and A in the form of carotenoids, potassium, manganese, and pantothenic acid.
How to use: juice, chop & sauté or steam & add to dinner plates.
Lentils are packed with iron, folate, phosphorus, and dietary fiber. They’re an easy way to add essential nutrients into any meal.
How to use : Add to salads, bowls, or soups.
7. PUMPKIN SEEDS
Pumpkin seeds are a nutrient-dense powerhouse and are an easy snack to consume to up your iron levels. They also contain copper, zinc, and phytosterols, which work to lower cholesterol.
How to use : Snack on raw pumpkin seeds solo or toss them into salads.
Not only do mulberries contain iron, but also vitamin C to help with iron absorption. Mulberries also contain protein, calcium, and phytonutrients.
How to use : Eat them as a snack or tossed into trail mix.
Amaranth is a gluten-free grain that is a great source of fiber, protein, and calcium. It also helps lower cholesterol and contains many more nutrients than rice or wheat.
How to use : Use as the base of a breakfast bowl or add to salad or dinner plates.
10. BLACKSTRAP MOLASSES
Blackstrap molasses is an excellent source of iron and can be incorporated into the diet extremely easily. It also contains vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, and manganese.
How to use : Take 1 tsp daily, either on its own, added to a smoothie, or drizzled on top of a yogurt or breakfast bowl.
11. *BONUS - SPIRULINA
This natural powder made from algae has very nutritious properties. It’s an excellent source of B vitamins, iron, and protein, and has additional antioxidant benefits. Spirulina is a must for vegans due to its high iron, calcium, and protein content. It’s also high in chlorophyll, which boosts the immune system and releases toxins from the blood.
How to use : Enjoy it in your green smoothies and always buy from a sustainable source.
Foods to avoid in cases of anemia:
Artificial sweeteners / sugar
Excessive amounts of processed foods (basically anything at the grocery store that comes in a box or packaging)
Conventional (non-organic) dairy
Chocolate / coffee / black tea
Soda / candy
All of these foods can rob the body of its iron stores and/or interfere with absorption, causing further deficiency.
Loading up on iron-rich foods, in conjunction with the lifestyle practices recommended above and appropriate supplementation and herbal remedies, is a holistic approach to counteracting or preventing anemia.