I’ve got sweatshirts and hoodies in every room of my house…just in case I get cold. And I always get cold. Doesn’t everyone get cold on a humid, August night? Apparently not. When I took a poll, I was the minority. Like, the only one. Which kind of made me think. Of course falling asleep at 8:32 on the couch every night, having to snake the bathtub every month from my hair falling out, or creating the tripod pose after a mile of my 5-mile run kind of made me think something was amok as well. A trip to Doctor Tom offered some insight. He thought I had asthma and sent me home with an inhaler. When the inhaler failed to warm me up on a hot summer’s night I returned to Doc Tom, who proceeded to take some blood tests. He reported that my cholesterol was borderline (thanks Dad), my thyroid was perfect (thanks mom) oh, and what were we going to do about my severe anemia? Wait … anemia? What anemia? I haven’t had any major surgeries. I’m not a vegetarian. I can practically devour an entire cow in one sitting. I drool at turkeys on the side of the road. I eat my spinach (sometimes—if it was hiding. And chopped up to resemble chives.) Okay, so I know that every month I go through super plus tampons like they’re not even there, and I have not one set of sheets that doesn’t remind me of that. But healthy me…anemic? Well, guess what? It seems as though I’m not the only one. More than 3 million people in the United States have anemia, and women and people with chronic diseases are at the greatest risk for anemia. What is anemia? It occurs when you have less than the normal number of red blood cells in your blood or when the red blood cells in your blood don’t have enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin’s job is to carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body. If you have anemia, your blood doesn’t carry enough oxygen to all the parts of your body and your body can’t work as well. How can you tell (earlier than I did) that you may be anemic? Here are some common symptoms:
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
- Pale skin
If you recognized any or some of the above, you may be anemic. The good news is all it takes is a simple blood test by your doctor to find out. What do you do if your iron is low? There are a bunch of ways to increase your iron stores. First, you need to figure out why you’re anemic. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have heavy periods, often bleeding through tampons every hour?
- Do you exercise every day for more than an hour at time?
- Do you avoid red meat and/or are you a vegetarian?
- Are you on a low-calorie diet?
- Do you drink more than two glasses a day of wine or coffee?
- Do you have thyroid issues or a chronic disease like Crohn’s?
- Do other people in your family have anemia?
Regardless of your reason for being anemic, if you have low iron stores, it’s important to eat foods that contain iron and will help you to increase your stores. Be mindful that heme iron (animal based) is more readily absorbed than non-heme iron (plant based). Eating heme iron will increase your stores faster. You can increase both heme and non-heme iron absorption by pairing it with vitamin C. For example, tomato bolognese sauce is a perfect combination of vitamin C from the tomatoes and heme iron from the beef. If your reason for being anemic is that you bleed a lot during your period, talk to your doctor about ways to curb your bleeding. The pill, IUD, and minor surgical procedures have helped women to slow their periods and increase their stores. Unfortunately, I tried the pill and it left me with such horrible migraines that I swore to never put another hormone in my body again. Which leads me to supplementation. If you’re iron is low, you need to get it back. Talk to your doctor about the best iron supplement for you. Many people find that iron pills can be hard on their stomachs and cause constipation. After much experimentation, I’ve found that one stopper full of liquid pediatric iron put into prune juice keeps my belly happy and my body healthy. Check with your doctor and see what your best option(s) are and don’t wait to feel better!