Living Gluten-Free: Part 4

Iron Deficiency

 by Donna Easto, C.H., H.C., M.H., Certified Herbal Educator

Iron-deficiency anemia is the most prevalent type of anemia globally and is common in people with celiac disease. In a study of newly diagnosed celiacs, one-third had anemia. There’s evidence that people who report constipation as their main symptom may have a more severe form of celiac disease than those who have diarrhea as their primary symptom.

Among the indications of iron deficiency anemia are fatigue, anxiety, irritability, depression, heart palpitations, poor concentration, constipation, loss of appetite, and cravings (Pica) for certain foods or nonfoods like ice chips, laundry starch, and dirt.

Why do iron deficiency anemia and celiac disease so often appear together? Damage from CD mostly occurs at the duodenum, a section of the small bowel where the vast majority of iron absorption from food occurs. This results in iron-deficiency anemia, characterized by low levels of red blood cells and hemoglobin in the body. Found within red blood cells, hemoglobin is a type of protein responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to various parts of the body. In anemia, you don’t have enough hemoglobin, so oxygen delivery throughout your body is impaired. As a result, cells don’t receive sufficient oxygen to function correctly. Aside from people with CD, women, preschool-age children, and persons with chronic conditions such as cancer and IBS are at the highest risk of developing anemia.

Our pioneer ancestors and traditional herbalists studded apples with iron nails to get elemental iron. Nowadays, the more commonly used (and safe) remedies in herbal practice are:

  • Stinging Nettle leaf brewed into a strong infusion. Rich in iron, chlorophyll and vitamin C, easily accessible nettles brewed as a tonic tea will provide elemental iron. However, it isn’t easy to calculate how much iron is present from batch to batch. The taste of nettle tea is reminiscent of black tea, and the leaf is a staple in many herbal blends.
  • If you’re looking for an over-the-counter remedy, try Floradix Iron and Herbs, a popular, agreeable and easy to digest source of elemental iron and iron-rich herbs.
  • As an experienced herbal do-it-yourselfer, and someone with CD who has struggled with iron deficiency anemia, I opt to make my own iron-rich syrup:
  • Combine: ½ ounce Yellow Dock root (14g) with ½ ounce Dandelion root (14g) Directions: Make a decoction by simmering both herbs (28g total) in 4 cups of water uncovered until reduced to 1 cup. Strain out the liquid, compost the herbs, add ½ cup blackstrap molasses to the liquid, mix until blended and refrigerate. It will keep up to 2 weeks refrigerated. Dose: 1-2 tablespoons up to two times daily, depending upon the severity of the anemia.

Cautions: Yellow Dock root, use with caution if you have a history of kidney stones, safety has not been conclusively established in pregnancy or nursing, Dandelion root, and Stinging Nettle leaf, safety has not been conclusively established in pregnancy or nursing.

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