I gave blood on Wednesday evening (May 13th 2020). A huge ‘well-done’ to the Blood Donor team who managed so well with the lockdown restrictions. I am a regular donor. I like to give blood not only because I could potentially be saving 3 lives with each donation but also because there are some health benefits to giving blood, causing a level of hormetic (healthy) stress in the body. My iron levels were measured beforehand and I had really good amounts of heamoglobin, the iron inside the red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body, fueling all our cells.
Today, Friday May 15th, having had a very gentle, restorative day on Thursday, I attempted a HIIT workout – short and hard. It was SO tough because it takes 4 – 8 weeks for the number of red blood cells to fullt replenish. I was gasping for air so rapidly and recovering far more slowly than I would ordinarily because I didn’t have my usual oxygen capacity in my blood. It reminded me just how important healthy levels of heamoglobin are for energy, recovery, mental clarity and resilience.
Signs of low heamoglobin include:
- generalised fatigue
- shortness of breath
- fast, irregular heartbeat
- pounding in the ears
- cold hands and feet
- pale or yellow skin
There are numerous reasons why levels can be low. It’s not just about how much iron is in our food, but how well me absorb it. Non-haem iron is found in non-animal foods such as green leafy veg, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and cocoa, but is generally considered more difficult to use by the body than animal sources such as red meat esp. organ meats, eggs, seafood.
Poor digestion, especially low stomach acid production can also inhibit iron absorption and certain foods block iron absorption like coffee, tea, sodas and alcohol. To naturally enhance your stomach acid levels and iron absorption, have 1 teaspoon (up to 1 tablespoon) of raw apple cider vinegar in a little water at the beginning of a meal that contains iron-rich foods [do not use if you have a peptic ulcer]. Vitamin C also greatly enhances iron absorption, so always have iron-rich food sources with the richly coloured fruits and vegetables.
Those who are choosing to eat very little, if any, animal foods need to be really careful about become anaemic – low in iron. If you are struggling with any of the symptoms above, do get a blood test to find out if it’s due to low heamoglobin but don’t take supplements unless advised by a professional as high levels can also be problematic.