Iron Deficiency from a Holistic Standpoint
How to really regulate iron
Iron has been one of the nutrients that is commonly spoken about in conventional health (along with calcium and vitamin D). There is so much that is wrong with the usual conventional approach, and yet most people are still looking at it in an allopathic way even in the natural health world.
Main Issues with the common views on Iron Deficiency
- Only looking at one or a few numbers. I see this SO OFTEN. People are told to take iron supplements based on just their ferritin number, or just their iron serum, or even their hemoglobin number. Please don’t fall for this. For TRUE iron status, you need to look at iron serum, ferritin, TIBC, transferrin, and saturation rate, as well as copper serum and ceruloplasmin
- Iron metabolism involves iron, copper, ceruloplasmin (which needs retinol and vitamin C), and molybdenum. Taking an iron supplement gives you iron. That is it. No co-factors, no guarantee that it will even solve your iron issues. In fact, you are more likely to store up that iron that isn’t usable, which has a big chance of harming you in the long run. Plus, when we’re using synthetic supplements, it is easy to raise levels in the blood- but once you stop the supplements, the levels tend to fall. This is because this is not how we’re supposed to fix nutrient imbalances.
- We need STOMACH ACID to utilize iron correctly. Technically we need stomach acid to utilize every nutrient correctly. It’s why we don’t want people to supplement 20 different things that end up low based on testing- you have to look at the bigger picture! It’s more often due to poor absorption first, and then you can look at adding in more sources.
- We need a healthy liver to utilize iron correctly. Copper and iron are interconnected. When copper regulates, iron has a chance to regulate. Ceruloplasmin is technically the copper binding protein, but we need it to make copper bioavailable, which in turn helps to make iron bioavailable. Like most things in the body, there is never ONE nutrient out of balance or ONE organ/system not working.
- Underlying infections are often a huge cause of iron dysfunction, whether it is low or high. I have seen both situations in those with infections like Lyme, EBV, parasites, etc. Addressing the body as a whole first and then working on these underlying issues is key for regulating all nutrients.
- There IS such a thing as too much iron! More is not always better when it comes to certain nutrients, especially iron. Iron supplements in high doses can build up in the body, and pathogens especially can make iron levels higher. Working on the pathogens and underlying causes can help with regulation iron levels though (which is why giving blood is not always a good answer).
Truly Fixing Anemia
Heal your gut!
The first step for starting to absorb more iron is to work on stomach acid. Most people are actually dealing with low stomach acid and not high- this is one of the biggest reasons why we are so nutrient deficient too! We’re just not utilizing our food very well. If we can’t break our food down properly, then this leads to many deficiencies and imbalances. Healing the gut is often the first step to take in healing from any illness too.
HTMA can give more insight on specific gut issues going on. General helpers for stomach acid include using apple cider vinegar before meals, bitter herbs like dandelion root or sprays like this one, working on sodium balance (which is where HTMA really comes in handy), fermented foods, and lemon juice.
Heal your Liver
We need bioavailable copper to utilize iron correctly. We need healthy livers to make ceruloplasmin to make copper bioavailable to utilize iron. So, copper and iron regulation stems from the liver! (Read more below about ceruloplasmin).
Over the last few years, I have seen so many people work on iron regulation by just taking iron and it rarely actually solves anything. There is so much more to the story! There is never one nutrient out of balance since all nutrients have co-factors that are needed for proper utilization.
Healing the liver is a crucial and yet overlooked part for healing from any illness. It has over 500 functions, and it can take years before any apparent liver issues are going on because we can function with as little as 1/6th of it!! Usually the remedies for healing the liver would depend on the strength of a person (especially what their oxidation rate is and how strong their adrenals are per an HTMA). Our general favorites are BioRay Liver Life, castor oil packs, bitter herbs, aloe vera, and sunflower lecithin. You can read more about liver healing and other options here.
Use whole food sources of iron with co-factors
Iron doesn’t work on its own. It needs co-factors to be properly absorbed, as well as what is mentioned above (stomach acid and a healthy liver!). We only absorb about 10% of the iron we consume- so it is important to work on gut/liver health and foods with the proper co-factors. These foods are some of the most common to focus on if one is dealing with a true low iron situation:
- Desiccated beef liver
- Whole food vitamin C
- Nettle Infusions
- Organic Black strap molasses
- Herbal iron tinctures like this one from Herbalist and Alchemist
- If you feel you really need a supplement, the last resort would be something like this liquid herbal iron from Gaia
Work on underlying infections
This is a HUGE piece of the puzzle for those that continue to have iron issues despite working on them for a long time. Lyme and co-infections, EBV, and parasites especially seem to create imbalances with iron. Usually it takes some time to work up to healing these infections because we have to work on foundational care first- but that also includes gut and liver healing, so iron can start to get regulated slowly as the body heals.
Overall, it is best to not jump into attacking these infections because you should work on strengthening the body first. You can read more about these common infections here!
What is Ceruloplasmin Anyway?
Ceruloplasmin is the copper binding protein but it also plays a huge part in iron metabolism. According to this study, ceruloplasmin is essential to get iron to moves from the cells to plasma. Ceruloplasmin doesn’t bind iron but it enable iron to be absorbed in the gut, allows it to bind with transferrin (another protein made in the liver), helps red blood cells form, and just allows proper iron metabolism.
Ceruloplasmin production depends on a few things. Sufficient adrenal and liver function is required to help make this protein. Please read that sentence again! This is why we usually work on adrenal and liver health FIRST for those dealing with copper issues. Ceruloplasmin is also dependent on animal-based retinol, whole food vitamin C, and copper (95% of the copper in the body is found in ceruloplasmin).
There are actually many things that inhibit ceruloplasmin production as well. Obviously the biggest problem with creating sufficient ceruloplasmin is our overloaded livers from environmental toxins. Preventing the liver from becoming sluggish is key to making ceruloplasmin available.
Ceruloplasmin in is the key to regulating copper and iron. CP is also needed for neurotransmitter health, amine activation, management of pathogens, and it is important for ATP regulation (aka energy production!)
So what happens when we focus on ceruloplasmin instead of individual nutrients? Since we have to focus on strengthening the adrenals and liver, the body gets stronger in the process. As ceruloplasmin rises, unbound copper falls and we make copper and iron more bioavailable. Iron is allowed to be activated to be utilized properly. Zinc, molybdenum and manganese are given a chance to re-balance once unbound copper decreases. The body can finally heal from underlying infections (whether bacterial, viral or parasitic) because copper is now becoming bioavailable. The body can also get a handle on oxidative stress once copper can become bioavaiable- whether it is from heavy metals, excess iron, or just general toxin buildup.
Ceruloplasmin and Transmitters (Basically everything you’d ever want to know about this subject! About 100 pages!)