Iron, Anemia and Vegetarianism

nci-vol-3696-150Illustration: Creator: Donald Bliss (Illustrator) Source: National Cancer Institute

Probably the biggest concern people have about trying vegetarian meals in their diet, after being concerned about getting enough protein, is concern about getting enough iron. Women are especially concerned about getting enough iron. I met a young lady once who told me she had tried to be a vegetarian and ate lots of dark, green leafy vegetables but she became anemic. She then went back to eating meat. In fact dark, green leafy vegetables, although a good source of iron, have been highly overrated when it comes to the amount of iron they have. Although I would never recommend to people not to eat meat at all the fact is that the average American gets twice the amount of protein that they need in a day which is very bad for their health. There are, also, many concerns about the quality of meat that is sold. There are concerns about toxins, excess fat and cruelty to animals. Certainly eating less meat and only buying meat of better quality that is healthier is a good idea. Also, I am concerned for those people who really are on an all vegetarian diet. In fact however the usability of the iron in a person’s diet has to do with other nutrients that the body needs to be able to use the iron. With the right knowledge there is no reason why a person who is a strict vegetarian should suffer from iron deficiency.

Iron serves many functions in the body but one of the most important is in having healthy hemoglobin in the red blood cells for the blood to carry oxygen. Iron is necessary for producing enzymes and is necessary for growth. Iron is necessary for a healthy immune system and energy production.

Anemia is a condition in which there is either an insufficient amount of red blood cells or an insufficient amount of hemoglobin in the red blood cells.   In either case this causes a lack of the proper amount of oxygen being delivered to the cells of the body for the cells to carry out their necessary functions. The deficiency of oxygen to the cells of the body can result in fatigue, impairment of muscular activity, and impairment of cell growth and repair. An inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain can result in dizziness and mental impairment.

Anemia is not an illness but a symptom of an illness. Anemia can be caused by other factors than iron deficiency. Anemia can be caused by thyroid disorders, hormonal disorders, liver damage or bone marrow disease. Anemia may be the first sign of arthritis, infection or a major illness such as cancer. Women may suffer from iron-deficiency caused anemia due to heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding. Intrauterine devices for contraception can cause excess bleeding. Overuse of aspirin or ibuprofen can cause blood loss in the digestive tract. First signs of anemia may include loss of appetite, constipation, headaches, irritability and loss of concentration. In advanced stages there can be depression, pallor, pale and brittle nails, and soreness in the mouth.

PF2422_erythrocytes_fImage from National Science Foundation

To avoid iron deficiency a person has to have the support of other nutrients in order for the body to be able to utilize the iron. These include vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid. Being deficient with any of these nutrients can cause anemia.

Vitamin B6 is a part of more functions of the body than any nutrient and is essential for healthy red blood cells. Fortunately nature is so wonderful in that vitamin B6 is in most foods. Vitamin B6 is more plentiful in brewer’s yeast, carrots, peas, spinach, sunflower seeds, walnuts and whole grains such as brown rice. For herbs vitamin B6 is plentiful in alfalfa and oat straw. Too high of dosages of vitamin B6 supplements can be very harmful to a person’s health.

Vitamin B12 is absolutely necessary for proper cell growth as well. It is necessary to help folic acid in the formation of red blood cells and for the utilization of iron. However in a strict vegetarian diet many plant based foods do not have vitamin B12. The body can store vitamin B12 so a person may not feel the effects of the deficiency for years. Vitamin B12 can be found in brewer’s yeast, sea weed such as dulse, kelp, nori and kombu, and in soy beans and cultured soy bean products such as tofu and miso. For herbs it is in alfalfa and hops. Certain medications and potassium supplements may block the absorption of vitamin B12. The most common form of vitamin B12 supplements which is cyanocobalamin is very ineffective and potentially harmful because it is very unusable to the body. The better vitamin B12 supplement which is more expensive and more difficult to find is methylcobalamin.

Folic acid, also known as folate, is essential for the body to use genetic information to produce the different kinds of cells of the body. This is why it is so important for those having a child. Folic acid is necessary for energy production and the formation of red and white blood cells. Folic acid is more effective with vitamin C and vitamin B12. Folic acid deficiency can be caused by a lack of fresh vegetables and fruit in the diet because over cooking and microwaving food destroys folic acid. Among the best sources of folic acid are asparagus, brewer’s yeast, brown rice, cheese, milk, lentils, split peas, mushrooms, oranges, root vegetables, salmon, tuna and green, leafy vegetables such as lettuce.

Foods rich in natural iron include dried apricots, blackstrap molasses, dried beans and peas, soy beans, and prune juice. Herbs rich in nutrients to help build up the blood include alfalfa, dong quai, burdock root, golden seal, pau d’arco, red raspberry leaf, kelp and slippery elm.

14421_loresPhoto from

Malabsorption may be a reason that a person may be getting sufficient iron in the diet and yet may be suffering from iron deficiency. There has to be enough hydrochloric acid in the stomach to digest iron. However if the stomach is producing enough hydrochloric acid do not use hydrochloric acid supplements or it could cause the stomach to not produce enough hydrochloric acid naturally. Intestines clogged up with too much white, processed wheat flour or too much bacteria can cause malabsorption. Excess meat consumption can cause too much bad bacteria growth. Proper PH balance is important. The body needs the proper balance of acidity and alkalinity. For alkaline a person may want to use organic, whole leaf wheat grass powder. To reduce the amount of bacteria in the intestines a person can drink kombucha, a tasty fermented drink, or try acidophilus. These are known as probiotics. The culture in yogurt, also, helps to kill bad bacteria. Getting fiber in the diet by eating whole grains will keep the intestines clean and working healthy. Brown rice has three times the amount of fiber as white rice and twice the amount of iron. Malabsorption, also, can cause vitamin B12 deficiency.

Among the nutrients that are needed for the body to be able to use iron are copper, manganese, molybdenum, vitamin A and vitamin B-complex. Copper, manganese and molybdenum can be found in natural brewer’s yeast as well as two important B vitamins and about 50% of the iron a person needs in a day. A person should not use iron supplements unless it is necessary. If a person uses iron supplements he should use an organic form such as ferrous gluconate or ferrous fumarate. Do not use ferrous sulfate. Do not take vitamin E supplements at the same time as iron supplements or foods that contain iron. Taking calcium supplements can inhibit the absorption of iron and should not be taken when consuming foods containing iron.

The body needs vitamins C and E present in the stomach to use iron. Vitamin E is found in avocados; cold pressed vegetable oils such as olive oil, soy bean oil and canola oil; dark green, leafy vegetables; legumes; nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts; seeds and whole grains. There are significant amounts in brown rice, wheat, corn meal, oatmeal, soy beans and sweet potatoes. Herbs that contain vitamin E include alfalfa, dandelion, dong quai, flax seed, oat straw and red raspberry leaf.

Although it is known that many natural foods are good sources of iron it may be difficult to know if someone is getting enough iron. Consider that shiitake mushrooms have a lot of iron in one serving. I have heard estimates between 30% to 60% of the amount a person needs in a day. Of course this depends on the size of the serving and the shiitake mushrooms used. Shiitake mushrooms have to be cooked to be digestible and are delicious in recipes but not tasty on their own. In Chinese restaurants they are known as black mushrooms. Black fungus is reported to have anywhere between 300% to 500% of the iron a person needs in a day in one serving. Black fungus does not have much taste to it but is used in stir fries and Oriental soups. Dried black fungus can be found in Oriental markets.

Red raspberry leaf is an herb that I have been enjoying as an organic herb tea for a long time. I have always known that it is good for the immune system. It is known to have a taste similar to that of fine black tea. This makes it a good substitute for tea that has caffeine. It is great for enjoying a refreshing tea that tastes like fine black tea but does not have caffeine. It has no harmful side effects so I drink lots of it with no worries and I know it is good for my health. As time has gone by I have become aware that red raspberry leaf tea is known to be especially good for women. For a long time I did not know the reason why but I came to understand that it is known as moon cycle tea. Red raspberry leaf, sometimes just known as raspberry leaf, contains fragarine which relaxes the pelvic and uterine muscles. It contains tannins which relieve nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Red raspberry leaf tea is good for pregnancy, childbirth and breast feeding. Red raspberry leaf helps to relieve menstrual cramps and pain. Red raspberry leaf reduces hemorrhaging and pain during childbirth. It is a good source of iron and vitamin E.  Red raspberry leaf is rich in calcium and contains vitamins A, C, D, F, G and vitamin B-complex. For men red raspberry leaf is good for the prostate.

Too much iron can be very harmful to a person’s health. This is because iron is stored in the body. Too much iron in the tissues and organs causes an increase in free radicals. Too much iron contributes to heart disease and cancer. Never take iron supplements with a cold, flu or other infection. This feeds the viruses and harmful germs to help them multiply.

To test for anemia a doctor can conduct a complete blood count or CBC test to test for red blood cell count and hemoglobin level. If a person has sufficient iron but is anemic a doctor can then test for inflammation.

Vitamin E from natural foods is much safer and reliable than vitamin E supplements. Some vitamin E supplements are not very useable to the body.


If you are interested in Red Raspberry Leaf Tea try: Starwest Botanicals







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