Getting Iron Naturally

Updated: May 25

Tired of feeling fatigued all the time and don’t have enough energy to do everything you wanted, dry hair, and dry skin? You might have blood deficiency in Chinese medicine term; it’s similar to the western term of anemia.


Based on the statistic of 2004 from the US Census Bureau and International Data Base, 3.5 million Americans have diagnosed with anemia, and many others have normal laboratory testing, but still have blood deficient signs. Anemia is a condition in which there is reduced delivery of oxygen to the tissue of the body leading to fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness, pale skin (lips, the lining of the eyelids, nail beds, and palms), insomnia, scanty or no period, or decreased appetite.
Based on the statistic of 2004 from the US Census Bureau and International Data Base, 3.5 million Americans have diagnosed with anemia, and many others have normal laboratory testing, but still have blood deficient signs. Anemia is a condition in which there is reduced delivery of oxygen to the tissue of the body leading to fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness, pale skin (lips, the lining of the eyelids, nail beds, and palms), insomnia, scanty or no period, or decreased appetite.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency, which leads to anemia worldwide, even in the United States. Iron deficiency can be caused by lack of iron in the daily meal, an inability to absorb iron, pregnancy, or blood loss i.e. heavy period, or Gastrointestinal bleeding.

How do you treat iron-deficiency anemia? First, understand the cause of your iron deficiency by visiting your health care provider to see if it is a bleeding disorder, or lack of food source or mal-absorption, which can be managed through careful meal selections or using herbs.

It is far better to consume iron-rich foods and Chinese medicinal herbs than to take iron supplements. Food is more enjoyable and easier for the body to assimilate, rather than taking concentrated iron pills, which can lead to stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea in some people. Other people can be allergic to the iron binder from the supplement i.e. the sulfate group, and overdosing iron supplements can be fatal.

Foods, high in iron, like meat, poultry, fish, egg, whole grains, and iron-fortified foods like cereals. Iron is easier to be absorbed if it comes from animal sources, and the iron availability is less if its source is plant or fortification.


Guidelines in general

  • Avoid processed foods, which is harder to digest and the good nutrients are harder to be absorbed.

  • Take food that contains Vitamin C along with the meal to help with iron absorption, i.e citrus fruits, or tomato.

  • Avoid drinking caffeine-containing beverages with the meal, such as coffee, tea, or dark-colored soft drinks. Caffeine can inhibit the absorption of iron.

  • Soups and stews are easy for the stomach to digest, and iron pot can add some iron to foods.

  • Avoid eating large amounts of dairy with meals, because calcium can inhibit iron absorption. Don’t take your iron supplement and calcium supplement at the same time!

Non-Vegetarians
  • Select good quality tender meat, poultry or fish

  • Avoid deep fry cooking method and avoid overcooking

  • Avoiding eating more than 5oz at one setting

Vegetarians
  • Utilize the legumes family regularly i.e. black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lima beans, or lentils. Don’t forget to add tomato or tomato sauce to help you get the iron.

  • Go nuts with snacks i.e. cashew, pistachio nuts, or sunflower seeds.

  • Choose whole grains or wheat bread, they are not only healthier, but they also contain more natural iron too.

  • Add some dried fruits to your cereals, salads, or snack mix

  • The general rules above are emphasized for vegetarians.

Iron deficiency takes up to 3 to 6 months to improve depending on its severity and cause(s). If the iron deficiency symptoms did not improve after following the above rules, the next step should be adding Chinese medicinal herbs into your daily meals, and make sure you consult with an herbalist; not all blood deficiencies are the same. Chinese herbal medicine has over 5,000 years of history and they all came from natural sources. Again, the natural source is easier for the body to assimilate.

Four-Substance Decoction (Si Wu Tang) is the most basic and the simplest Chinese classic herbal formula for blood deficiency. This formula has only four ingredients, namely: Rehmanniae Glutinosae Conquitae, Paeoniae Lactiflorae, Angelicae Sinensis, and Ligustici Chuanxiong, and has nearly one thousand years of clinical application. In addition, Rehmanniae and Angelicae Sinensis are rich in iron. This formula helps to nourish the blood, and promotes better blood circulation, and enables the body to function more efficiently. Many iron-deficient people have a sluggish digestion system. Some herbs, such as Fructus Amomi, Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae, good old ginger, or Pericarpium Citri Reticulate, which have been proven to promote better flow of digestive functions can be used to correct this condition. Others can have a weak digestive system that will require energy-boosting herbs like Astragalus Membranacei, Ginseng, Jujube, or Licorice. There are also many other classic formulae for improving digestion, boosting energy, and nourishing blood.

In addition to iron-rich foods and herbs, regular daily exercises or activities are also very important. Activities like walking, swimming, yoga, or Taiji/Qigong help the better circulation of energy and blood, which in turn can improve metabolism, strengthen the gastrointestinal system and lead to better digestion and absorption of iron.