Medical herbalist Nicola Parker reveals how to improve your iron levels without eating liver

Traditionally, herbs like nettle and organ meats like liver were used for their iron rich content to put the colour back in a young girls cheeks.

Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 12:30 pm

Anaemia is a relatively common condition. I’d hear about it from my elders as a young person, when I was feeling tired, out of sorts or looking pale – ‘do you think she might be anaemic?’.

Traditionally, herbs like nettle and organ meats like liver were used for their iron rich content to put the colour back in a young girls cheeks. Well, I can tell you exactly what teenage me though of this. Thick slices of liver covered in gravy? Weeds blended into soups? Not on your Nelly!

These days, if you suspect you have anaemia then getting a proper diagnosis is important. Symptoms of anaemia include shortness of breath, feeling weak, palpitations (the sensation of your own heart beat), pale skin and headaches.

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Liver is rich in iron

Prolonged anaemia can cause hair loss, especially when brushing or washing it.

Anaemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen and nutrients around the body, hence symptoms such as breathlessness, especially after exercise when our body’s demand for oxygen is greater.

The most common cause of anaemia is related to a lack of iron, but it’s important to understand why we are deficient in this important nutrient. A simple answer could be poor dietary intake. Iron is much easier to absorb from animal meats than it is from plant-based foods, meaning that a handful of spinach every so often isn’t likely to help. Someone who doesn’t eat red meat should regularly eat dark green leafy veg, nuts, dried apricots and wholegrain foods. If you can eat red meat, then adding this to your diet, along with iron rich organ meat like liver on occasion, should help keep your levels stable.

If you’re already eating this way, explore other causes of low iron. Keep an eye out for black stool or vomit, which suggest bleeding in the digestive tract, a more serious issue that should be checked by your GP immediately. For women, it could be a heavy menstrual bleed or you may develop anaemia after blood loss due to injury or physical trauma.

Medical herbalist Nicola Parker

Difficulty absorbing iron is a more subtle cause, possibly due to gastric problems, an inability to absorb B12, underlying bowel conditions or medications like omeprazole and lansoprazole, which can affect your absorption of nutrients.

If a blood test shows iron deficiency anaemia, your GP can prescribe strong iron tablets for a number of weeks until your levels are restored, but these tablets are not always well tolerated. Complaints of constipation, black stool and digestive upsets are common. Constipation can be particularly problematic for people with existing bowel conditions like IBS or diverticular disease. In these cases, I’m often approached with a request for an alternative, an iron that won’t aggravating existing conditions but is still potent enough to work.

Fortunately, there are quality iron supplements designed to do exactly this. My favourite is called Hematinic formula. “Hematinics” are nutrients required for the building of healthy red blood cells and the Hematinic formula contains all of them. To absorb iron and build healthy blood cells, we need adequate levels of B12, folic acid and vitamin C.

By including all these alongside a good quality, gentle iron, the Hematinic formula is able to offer an absorbable, easily digested remedy, that doesn’t need to come in doses strong enough to cause all sorts of gut disturbances.

My own reason for loving the Hematinic formula, is that where possible I like to address deficiency with foods. During a spot of anaemia in my 20’s, I was pale, exhausted and out of breath for seemingly no reason at random times in the day.

The idea of eating a plate of liver and onions made my stomach turn. That part of my teenage self hadn’t left me during my voyage into young adulthood. Hematinic formula contains powdered liver, which meant I could get all my nutrients, including food source iron, without having to put forkfuls of liver into my face. A win – win! After six weeks, I felt back to normal, with no digestive upsets and no tears or grimaces at the dinner table. It remains my go-to iron formula for anaemia to this day.

For more information or to make an appointment with Nicola, call her clinic on 01524 413733.