Following on from veganuary and the rise in prompts to take up vegetarianism to help limit climate change, if you are up for the challenge how can you head off one of the potential pitfalls of those two dietary lifestyles – Anaemia.
For some people anaemia is a persistent or reoccurring lifelong condition for others it may be experienced as a once off or temporary dietary deficiency. Some dietary lifestyles are more prone to anaemia as the iron in plant based meals (non-haem iron) is considerably less readily absorbed than the type of iron in animal products (haem iron).
Anaemia is often commonly thought of as an iron deficiency – in fact it is a decrease in your red blood cell count, or compromised haemoglobin content in the blood which is dependent on sufficient iron but also b-vitamins.
Sometimes acid reflux, peptic ulcer or other digestive complaints may case malabsorption of iron or b vits, sometimes an illness with blood loss (eg gastric bleed) is at the root. Prolonged use of antacids, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories can inhibit mineral absorption.
Currently, anaemia is understood in three distinct causative categories; microcytic, macrocytic or normocytic. “Cytic” is a medical term denoting cells; in this instance red blood cells. Their size, enlarged or shrunken or normal provides a clue to the type of anaemia in play.
Microcytic type anaemia. In this condition, red blood cells are diminished in size. Most often due to an iron deficiency but also occasioned by periodic menstrual blood loss.
Macrocytic type anaemia. In this condition, red blood cells appear larger than normal it is sometimes referred to as Megaloblastic anaemia. Most commonly occurs as a result of vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency.
Normocytic type anaemia. Here the red blood cells appear normal sized but present with an impaired oxygen-carrying capacity. Most commonly occurring as a secondary manifestation of a long-standing chronic disease or inflammatory factor.
Irrespective of the type, all of these anaemias present with the same symptoms; pale pallor, physical tiredness to mental fatigue, wheeziness or breathlessness, palpitations, headaches and increased experiences of muscular or joint pain. All types can exacerbate underlying illnesses from angina to viral load.
Garden treatments: Sometimes a weed can come to the rescue and a salad of dandelion greens or chickweed can help you maintain good levels of iron or alternately you could avail of 1 tsp. of tincture of Yellow dock root (three times daily). The other herbal staples for anaemia include alfalfa, burdock root and the iron rich nettle – but really any increase in edible plants will help.
Chlorophyll is the lifeblood of plants, but the green pigment that facilitates photosynthesis is compositionally close to the haemoglobin of red blood cells that consumption of edible foliage makes for a temporary replacement until your body is able to replenish naturally.
Fresh thyme is excellent as a tea or in a soup or casserole but dried thyme holds on to its iron content and is perhaps one of the most iron-rich herbs you can pluck from the spice rack. One 1 teaspoon of dried thyme delivers around 1.2 milligrams of iron.
Kitchen support: Often in holistic circles there is a kind of sympathetic magic, and many practitioners may suggest that eating red will increase red blood but as we have seen in the previous – green might just be the better option– that said I cannot praise beetroot enough for raising our own internal red – it boosts oxygen supply/delivery and can support a healthy blood count with its nutritional and phytochemical composition.
Of course you should increase iron rich foods such as salad greens, leafy vegetable, brown rice, lentils, but also dried fruits, (notably raisins and prunes) and bran flakes or fortified cereal is an option too. There is a consideration worth taking, to cook in iron pots and not aluminium pots (metal ions impart to boiling water at cooking temperatures).
Calcium binds to iron so avoiding cow’s milk at your meal is a good idea, perhaps swap to a plant based milk instead. The tannins in tea and coffee also inhibit iron so perhaps an herbal tea will be a preferred option at meal time. Anise tea and raspberry leaf tea help increase the absorption rate of iron.
B vitamins are good for the blood but folate in particular – it is necessary for the formation of red blood cells. Folate rich foods include dark leafy veg and also fruits ( particularly papaya, oranges, grapefruit and grapes). Folates are also prevalent in beans so try the following – in order of folate intensity – mung beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lima beans, black beans, navy beans and kidney beans. Lentils are also excellent.
Then there is the option of some asparagus soup – Eating just one cup of boiled asparagus delivers approximately 260 mcg of folic acid – so blitzing that into a soup amalgamates the nutrients that have leeched into the cooking water and delivers more.
A vegan diet may trigger a b12 deficient anaemia and this generally requires supplementation from synthetic or algae derived b12. B12 is not present in plant based foods unless fortified. Cereals and nutritional yeast are most commonly fortified.