I have been on and off with supplementation over the years. In recent years I stopped taking supplements in an effort to get what I need from my food. All that has changed again after the annual physical I had a couple of months ago.
At the appointment my doctor (who I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love) said she wasn’t going to do a full blood workup on me because everything has looked so good over the last couple of years. She said I’d be good with just a finger stick. I was surprised to receive a call from her nurse the next day asking me to come back in for the full panel. She told me my hemoglobin came back really low and started asking me if I’d felt tired lately or if I had been experiencing other symptoms of iron deficiency. I was surprised to hear this because in the past doctors have always remarked on how high that count usually is for me…usually more towards the normal range for men.
I went back in for the blood work and just a few days later I received a call from the nurse with an iron deficient anemia diagnosis. And not just a little anemic but full on. She told me I needed to start taking iron pills immediately and then encouraged me to start including things like kale, beets and red meat in my diet. I told her I had the kale and beets covered!
I have to admit that I was a little frustrated with the diagnosis. I pay a lot of attention to my diet and the things that I put into my body. And in the last year and a half I have eaten more meat than I have in five years. I did a ton of reading and research and talked to a lot of friends, family and doctors about it. My grandmother has battled with chronic anemia on and off but it’s not usually something that’s really genetic.
The symptoms did make sense. Some of the most prevalent for me were fatigue (especially when working out), feeling cold (especially in the hands and feet) and brittle nails.
I started taking the supplements a few days after the diagnosis. I am taking iron, omega 3-6-9 + vitamin D, probiotics and a prenatal. Iron for the anemia, the omega for general health with all the systems in my body, the D because I have been slightly low in that over the years too (but not to the point of concern), the probiotic to help with digestion because iron is really hard on your stomach and the prenatal for an extra dose of folic acid which helps the body absorb iron.
And the result? I feel a million times better. I didn’t even know I felt so bad. My energy levels are higher during the course of the day, I don’t fall asleep on the couch at night and my workout performance is night and day. I have written about this several times but over the last 9 months all workouts other than yoga have felt a million times harder. I got to the point where I could not run without stopping every five minutes or so because my body felt so dead. I actually started to hate to run and it was a huge deal if I could run the three mile loop I’ve run for years with no problem without stopping. I went from consistently being one of the first to finish in CrossFit WODs to being the very last. I brushed all this off to hitting the 30 mark and not working as hard on endurance training now that I don’t distance run anymore.
After this all came to light I did some research on anemia and athletes and came across an article from Vanderbilt University which states,
“All people who have Iron Deficiency Anemia suffer, but athletes with the disease have even more noticeable symptoms that adversely affect their performance. The main reason for their acute observation of a problem is the decrease in VO2 max, which is a direct measurement of how much oxygen a person uses in a set period of time. An athlete’s VO2 max is something he/she constantly wants to improve. With anemia, by no fault of the athlete, it decreases drastically. That amount of oxygen that an athlete can use in a given period of time decreases by a significant amount. Doubtlessly, anemia will affect athletic performance. The athlete loses breath after a much less intense and shorter duration of exercise. The fatigue and weakness also hurt the athlete’s ability to perform in sports. Even a slight decrease in hemoglobin causes a considerable effect. A comparison of marathoners with high hematocrit to those with low hematocrit shows that a higher hematocrit was associated with faster times.”
Since starting the iron supplement, I seriously feel like a new person when I run and lift. Well, actually I feel like my old self!
In addition to the supplements you may have noticed that I am also increasing my red meat intake and of course still focusing on eating all those other healthy and iron-rich foods that I love like kale, pumpkin seeds, beets, broccoli, dried fruits, etc. Many other sources say that tea and coffee (caffeine) block the absorption of iron so I have cut back to one cup of coffee in the morning (usually) and stopped drinking tea with my lunch.
I still wish I had a clearer answer as to why my body isn’t absorbing iron but for now I am relieved to be feeling better. The good news is that I am not sentenced to stay on these supplements forever and once I get my iron levels back up my body should be able to self-regulate and hopefully keep the levels where they are supposed to be.
I have been so back and forth about whether or not to share this on my blog but it is a health related topic that many people (especially women) struggle with so I hope that I can help someone else by sharing my story. Please let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, experiences, comments, etc. I would love to hear them.