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Iron is mainly responsible for the transport of vital oxygen in the blood. It also plays an important role in blood formation. Iron also helps keep skin, hair and nails healthy and has important functions within the immune system. Iron is one of the most important trace elements for the human body. If it is missing as part of our blood, we also lack the energy, we feel "bloodless", "juice and powerless".
If the iron deficiency persists over a longer period of time and this leads to an ongoing undersupply of oxygen, this can lead, among other things, to acidification of the tissue, the death of (nerve) cells and damage to the internal organs.
You can find detailed information about the function of iron in the body as well as the causes and symptoms of an iron deficiency and the conventional, conventional medical treatment in our article "Iron deficiency - causes, symptoms and treatment".
Important NOTE: The diagnosis and, if necessary, the treatment of the causes of an iron deficiency always belong in conventional medical hands. Measures to combat the deficiency should also be discussed with your family doctor and, as far as possible, tailored to your individual needs.
An overview of how to counter iron deficiency with natural means can be found in our short overview.
- Task of iron: Above all, transport of oxygen in the blood, among other things, involved in blood formation, the immune system, health of the skin, hair and nails.
- Signs of iron deficiency: For example, tiredness, exhaustion, paleness of the skin and lips, constant freezing, palpitations and shortness of breath even with slight physical exertion, dry skin, torn corners of the mouth, dry hair, hair loss.
- Diagnosis: Medical history, blood count.
- Important NOTE: You should always have a suspected iron deficiency examined by a doctor, as a persistent iron deficiency poses serious health risks.
- Countermeasures: Have the causes clarified and treat if possible. Compensate for iron deficiency through special nutrition, naturopathic support, if necessary taking iron supplements.
- Naturopathic support: For example, Schuessler Salt No. 3 Ferrum phosphoricum, bitter substances, homeopathics.
How do you recognize an iron deficiency?
Do you feel constantly weak and tired quickly? Do your skin and lips look pale, are you constantly cold and do you get palpitations even with little effort?
This can be an indication of iron deficiency. This also includes dry hair, hair loss, brittle nails and torn corners of the mouth (corner of the mouth).
If you experience several of these signs, you should describe your symptoms to your family doctor. With the help of a blood picture, clarity can quickly be created by determining the iron value and the ferritin and transferrin values. If there is actually an iron deficiency, the causes must first be found and treated if necessary.
The causes include, for example, internal bleeding in the gastrointestinal and urogenital tract, inflammation, tumors or celiac disease. But "non-pathological" reasons such as pregnancy, growth in children and adolescents or the monthly blood loss due to a heavier menstrual period can also lead to an increased iron requirement and possibly to an iron deficiency.
Important: You should discuss with your doctor which of the naturopathic options described here are suitable in your case. Depending on how pronounced the iron deficiency is, the measures described may not be sufficient.
Conventional medicine usually compensates for an iron deficiency by taking high-dose iron tablets. However, some people do not tolerate these well; among other things, they can cause symptoms such as nausea or constipation.
Through targeted changes in eating habits as well as some naturopathic measures, you can try to compensate for or prevent iron deficiency in a natural and gentle way.
If there is only a slight deficiency or if you want to prevent a (renewed) deficiency, you can try the measures with a doctor's consent. But watch whether your condition is actually improving. If this is not the case, you should seek medical advice again.
If there is a serious iron deficiency over a longer period of time, irreversible (permanent) organ or nerve damage can result. There may also be causes behind it that urgently need to be addressed. Always take iron deficiency seriously!
The role of nutrition
An iron deficiency can arise if the diet does not contain enough iron. Especially in winter, many people are too one-sided and do not take in enough vitamins and minerals from fresh food. Foods containing vitamin C that support the absorption of iron in the cells are also less common on the menu in winter for many people.
Suitable foods can be found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and herbs as well as in nuts, meat and fish products.
Blood sausage, pork liver and pig kidney are the leaders in iron content. However, it is still controversial whether the iron from animal products can actually be used as well as has long been assumed. From a health point of view, however, it is not advisable to consume it too regularly - at least from offal - due to the often high level of pollutants.
Cereals with a particularly high iron content are wheat bran, amaranth, quinoa and millet flakes, followed closely by millet (grain), oatmeal, spelled and buckwheat. Sourdough bread is preferable when there is a lack of iron.
Chickpeas and white beans are often on the menu, as are kidney beans, tofu, chanterelles, parsley, fennel and salsify, Jerusalem artichoke, Swiss chard, beetroot or zucchini. While spinach is also a good source of iron, it also contains a lot of oxalic acid, which in turn inhibits iron absorption in the body. Spinach should not be eaten too often if there is an iron deficiency, or at least always combined with foods containing vitamin C that support the absorption of iron.
Salads (for example made from dandelion, nettle, lamb's lettuce, endive or watercress) can be refined with iron, especially with roasted sesame seeds or cashew nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds and pistachios. Among the spices, thyme is a very good source of iron. Ginger also contains a lot of iron.
Dried fruit is also a good source of iron and also stimulates digestion. Dried apricots in particular are rich in iron. In addition, dates, figs and dried apple rings are recommended. Dark berries in the fruit basket also provide vitamin C, which helps with iron absorption, and promote blood formation. These include currants, elderberries, blackberries and blueberries.
In the past, it was assumed that vegetarians and vegans suffer from iron deficiency more frequently. But with a balanced diet with sufficient iron-containing foods and support of vitamin C for better iron absorption, the daily iron requirement can usually be covered without any problems without meat, fish and animal products. However, the body's supply of vitamin B12 and folic acid as well as copper and vitamin C should also be checked regularly, since these substances are also required for the formation of blood cells.
Inhibitors and accelerators in iron absorption
The consumption of coffee and black tea should be avoided at least two hours after consumption of the high-quality iron carriers, since an contained tannin (tannin) complicates or prevents the absorption of iron via the stomach and intestinal mucosa. Cola, cocoa and red wine also inhibit the absorption of iron. Spinach, rhubarb and whole grains can also make iron absorption difficult.
Calcium can also interfere with the absorption of iron. It can therefore be helpful to eat calcium-rich foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese or eggs in the morning, for example, possibly combined with whole grain bread or muesli. In the case of lunch and dinner, one could then focus on a high iron content and forego calcium-containing foods and the other foods mentioned above that inhibit iron absorption.
The fact that vitamin C supports the absorption (absorption) of iron can also be taken into account when preparing a meal. For example, she could start with lemon dressing on the salad and top it off with a dessert made from fresh oranges. Peppers, spinach, broccoli or Brussels sprouts also contain a lot of vitamin C.
Drinking a glass of fruit juice with a meal also has a very favorable effect on iron absorption. Juices from carrots, black currants, elderberries or beetroot are well suited for this, but also orange or grapefruit juice.
Naturopathic support for iron deficiency
With the additional intake of the biochemical functional agent Ferrum phosphoricum (Schüßler salt no.3), utilization blocks are to be released and the body is stimulated to absorb more of the mineral from the diet. However, this effect has not yet been scientifically proven.
Homeopathic remedies that may be indicated in the case of iron deficiency are, for example, Arsenicum album, phosphorus or Chininum arsenicosum. In classic homeopathy, however, the choice of a homeopathic remedy is never made on the basis of a single symptom and belongs in the hands of a specialist.
In phytotherapy, there are some medicinal plants that can help to remedy iron deficiency. The ferruginous plants include, for example, nettle, dandelion, centaury, mercury, blackberry leaves, Tormentill and field horsetail.
If the absorption of iron is reduced by a lack of digestive juices, plant preparations with bitter substances (for example Swedish herbs or wormwood) can help. (jvs, kh)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Jeanette Viñals Stein, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Bierbach, Elvira (ed.): Naturopathic practice today. Textbook and atlas. Elsevier GmbH, Urban & Fischer Verlag, Munich, 4th edition 2009
- Federal Institute for Risk Assessment: Questions and answers on iron in food. www.bfr.bund.de (accessed on December 13, 2019), BfR