Iron-deficiency anemia is a problem that is growing more and more common in both adults and children. It is common to see children that are very thin, pale, and with sunken eyes. These children often cannot gain weight either. A trip to the pediatrician will often attempt to address the problem with iron supplementation and may include some dietary tips for helping increase weight.
Yet both of these things WILL make the situation worse. That's because it's completely ignoring the underlying cause.
In both children and adults, iron infusions are becoming commonplace. Yet this also makes it worse and ignores the cause.
So what is the cause?
Gut dysbiosis, aka leaky gut, and overgrowth of pathogenic gut bacteria.
Leaky gut is when the epithelial cells of the intestinal wall are broken down to the point where they have a complete opening. This opening allows microscopic food and environmental proteins and peptides into the bloodstream, a place where they should NOT be. The body launches an antibody response and systemic inflammation comes next which causes malabsorption of nutrients.
There are many things that contribute to this, but the most common are:
Various pharmaceuticals and OTC drugs (oral contraceptives, pain relievers, etc.)
This gut dysbiosis is both caused by and results in abnormal gut flora.
These things all leave the gut host to pathogenic (bad) bacteria, and that pathogenic bacteria LOVES to feed off of iron. That is why pumping more isolated iron into the body, as well as processed foods to try and gain weight, will make the problem worse. It feeds the bad guys.
Most people with abnormal gut flora have various stages of anemia. It is not surprising. They not only can't absorb essential-for-blood vitamins and minerals from food, but their own production of these vitamins is damaged.
On top of that, people with damaged gut flora often have a particular group of pathogenic bacteria growing in their gut, which are iron-loving bacteria (Actinomyces spp., Mycobacterium spp., pathogenic strains of E.coli, Corynebacterium spp. and many others). They consume whatevre iron the person gets from the diet, leaving that person deficient in iron. Unfortunately, supplementing iron makes these bacteria grow stronger and does not remedy anemia.
(Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, Gut and Psychology Syndrome)
Recent research is further proving that lower iron is associated with lower healthy gut microbiota. Specifically, a healthy gut with beneficial flora has better iron storage. Click here to read more.
Iron-Fortified Foods, Drinks, & Supplements Worsen the Problem
In addition to Dr. Campbell McBride's discussion above, research further proves that adding fortified foods, drinks, and supplements can increase the levels of pathogenic (bad) bacteria in the gut and decrease the good bacteria. For example:
So iron-fortified infant formula, vitamins, supplemental drinks, etc. are increasing the prevalence of dangerous bacteria in the gut like E. coli, salmonella, etc. while decreasing the beneficial bacteria that is needed to protect us.
This is extremely important to consider these effects for an infant fed iron-fortified formula every day.
So how do we fix this?
The only way to truly address anemia is to heal the gut and restore a healthy microbiome. This requires eliminating the contributing factors and foods causing inflammation, adding in good flora, and supplementing with nutrients helpful for sealing the intestinal wall.
There are two options I've found to be most effective for this. The Autoimmune Paleo Diet is a great protocol for helping eliminate potential allergenic foods which allows the inflammation to go down. This is crucial because the gut wall cannot be sealed if foods that cause inflammation are still being consumed. Focusing on gut-healing foods like bone broth and lacto-fermented vegetables is very important. There are many good resources out there for the AIP diet including The Paleo Approach and The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook.
The other option is the G.A.P.S. dietary protocol outlined by Dr. Campbell-McBride in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome. This is a very effective (yet difficult) gut-healing protocol. I've seen it work miracles in many people's lives.
In addition to a dietary protocol, the following supplements can be very helpful:
Beef spleen—This is actually five times higher in natural heme iron than beef liver! We have seen through testing that after daily supplementation, hemoglobin and ferritin can be raised to optimal levels. Click here for a grass-fed beef spleen supplement we are finding to work very well.
Cod liver oil (Research shows it helps heal the gut wall, but it must be cod liver oil and not just fish oil because the Vitamin A is crucial.)
Chlorella (This helps remove toxins and pathogenic bacteria while helping restore hemoglobin.)
Zinc (Also proven to help seal the gut wall.)
Read more about my full list of Supplement Recommendations.
Keep in mind that there is no easy way to address this problem as it indicates a much larger problem. But addressing and healing the root cause will also help with every other area of health as it is common for people with anemia to also have other gut-related health problems such as allergies, chronic fatigue, depression, A.D.H.D., a whole slew of autoimmune diseases, and more.
It's worth the effort. Gut health is absolutely crucial to our short- and long-term health.
Blessings of good health,