Many women have low-iron, and certainly in pregnancy it’s a hot topic. Here’s all about it.
What does iron do in our bodies?
Iron plays such a crucial role in our bodies, the question might be posed, “What does iron NOT do?”
Iron is essential for the following:
– Transport of oxygen to cells throughout the body, and then CO2 to the lungs.
– Production of red blood cells
– Converting blood sugar to energy (metabolism)
– Producing enzymes (for hormones, neurotransmitters, amino acids, and generating new cells)
– Strengthening immune system
– Encouraging optimal physical/mental growth, therefore it’s crucial for growing fetus, infants, and children. (This is because it’s giving the red blood cells oxygen, essential for growth.)
Why do we need to consume iron?
Our bodies do not produce iron on their own, therefore we must consume it via food or drink, mineral supplement, herbs, or homeopathy.
How do we lose iron in the body?
Iron is lost via these processes:
-Bleeding. Since we women bleed regularly during our monthly cycles, we are more at risk than men for low stores of iron. In pregnancy, we are not just concerned that the baby get enough for growth, but postpartum, if iron stores are low, the blood loss after birth could be more of a risk.
-Eliminations; sweating; exfoliating (dead skin cells)
Symptoms of Low Iron
If iron stores are low, normal hemoglobin production slows down, which means the transport of oxygen is diminished, possibly resulting in:
-Low blood pressure
-Increased heart rate due to less oxygen (the heart overcompensates by trying to pump more)
What do the blood test numbers mean?
A blood test will determine if you have iron deficiencies in your blood, which could lead to anemia (too few red blood cells). The test usually shows results for both Hemoglobin and Hematocrit percentage levels. Note that percentages are slightly lower in pregnancy due to the 30-50% increase in blood volume, so make sure that your care provider asks for the level to be assessed according to pregnancy.
Blood volumes peak around 28-32 weeks of pregnancy.
1. Hemoglobin Levels: Hemoglobin (Hb) is the oxygen-carrying protein in your red blood cells. The expected level is between 10.5 to 15 grams/deciliter (a deciliter is 1/10 of a liter).
NOTE: Hemoglobin can be written without the decimal point. For example, 11.2 gm% is the same as 112 g/L. It may be written on your pregnancy card in either form.
2. Hematocrit Levels
Hematocrit is the percentage of red blood cells in your blood. In pregnancy, a healthy range is around 30-35%.
3. Ferritin: IF you have a history of low hemoglobin or hematocrit levels, you can also request to be tested for iron itself (Ferritin). This will test the amount of iron stores you have. If this number is low, but your hemoglobin and hematocrit levels are fine, it stands to reason that you are simply using up your stores quickly.
How can I increase my iron levels?
Absorption: Whatever methods you’re using to keep good iron levels, note that it’s best to consume iron with Vitamin C, and NOT with calcium, within an hour of consumption. In addition, caffeine inhibits iron absorption.
If your Hb levels are 11grams or lower, it’s quickest to use any of the following, continually through the pregnancy:
- Chlorophyll: 1-2 Tb/day
- An herbal tincture of yellow dock, nettles, dandelion, and black strap molasses
- A commercial supplement. Best to ask around from people who are NOT selling these products, but are in the know about their effectiveness.
If your level is stable:
Cool! You obviously have the nutrition to provide enough iron. Keep it going with the following:
There are two types of iron:
- Heme Iron (easier to absorb) comes from red meat, poultry, and fish.
- Non-Heme Iron is less easy to absorb but still healthy nonetheless, and obviously suitable for vegetarians. Non-heme iron comes from:
-Seaweed (Especially Nori)
-Dark green leafy vegetables
-Wheat Germ/Wheat Grass juiced drinks
-Seeds: Pumpkin, Sesame, Squash
Everyone knows we need good iron levels. As always, do what’s easiest for your lifestyle to keep the levels up to par.