Women’s Health; Heavy Menstruation and Iron- Deficiency Anemia

This is a disclaimer ⇒⇒⇒  I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist. I am not recommending anything. I am simply sharing my thoughts, my story, and my journey with you

I’m almost 40, and may possibly (probably) be on the cusp of menopause. I am on Nexplanon birth control, and that has brought a whole slew of oddities to my cycle (or not-cycle). I was blessed with delightfully reliable, and easy menstrual cycles for 20 years. Whatever the reason, for the last year and a half, I have been struggling on and off with very inconsistent and heavy bleeding.

Sometimes it’s the frequency that gets me: 1 week on, 2 weeks off, then another week on.

Sometimes it’s the sheer duration: 14, 16, 20 days.

Sometimes it’s the volume: 3 supers in 3 hours. Getting up at night to change pads. Buying the 60-box of tampons because I don’t want to run out before the bleeding is done.

Besides being achy and generally annoyed with the situation, I have found that I also get very, very,VERY tired. And when I say tired, I mean weak-tired, sleepy-tired, irritated-and-moody-tired, can’t-think-tired, can’t-function-normally-tired, there-isn’t-enough-sleep-in-the-world!-tired.

(There are many, many other new “PMS” symptoms I now experience that I missed out on in my younger years, but I really want to focus on the tired here)

Iron Deficiency Anemia – the menstrual edition 

There are people who just are anemic. Like, all the time. And that is a serious thing that may or may not need professional guidance. What I’m talking about is the anemia that comes from too much blood loss all at once, or a body not being able to keep up with the blood loss or a period of time. If you only experience these symptoms on or around your period (or you have a loved one that you notice is only like that on or around her period), then that’s what I’m talking about here.

Other symptoms from the interwebs:

…dizziness, racing heart, palpitations, shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, tingling or crawly feeling in legs, brittle nails, easy bruising, cold hands/feet, irregular heartbeat, headaches, hair loss, strange cravings for non-food (PICA), pale skin….of course if you look up any 3 of these symptoms, you will find a dozen OTHER things that can cause them, and I’m sure cancer is among them. But let’s start with simple.

Iron Supplementation

I don’t take supplements. You might, and that’s your choice, and if it works for you, go for it. I turned to food for my iron supplementation. Partly because I love food. Food is my magic! Partly because I feel food is the safest and most efficient way to adjust what my body is getting on a regular basis. Partly because I don’t believe isolated vitamins, minerals, compounds, etc. found in pills and capsules provide the same synergistic, fully available and absorbable effect that whole foods/herbs/substances do.

Heme and non-heme iron

So there are lots of foods high in iron: leafy green vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, legumes (especially beans), molasses, to name a few. But all these foods contain plant-based, non-heme iron, which is not as easily absorbed by our  bodies.  

Heme-iron only comes from animal sources like meat, fish, shellfish, and eggs. Heme-iron is more bioavailable to humans and is more easily absorbed by our bodies. This is potentially why a lot of vegans suffer from low iron.

But back to me and my journey.

Our normal diet includes beans, meat, eggs, fish, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. But I find I need a more substantial boost at times. Some extras I add include the following:

Almonds. I buy a big tub of almonds (salted, roasted, raw, I don’t think it matters) and keep baggies of them everywhere (work desk, sofa table, by the stove, nightstand, purse, glovebox…) so when I’m feeling snacky, I have them at hand.

Greens. When I feel that tell tale tired coming on, or Day 1 of my period (whichever comes first), I make a big pot of greens (how-to below) and keep them in the fridge. I’ll add a spoonful to a scoopful to any meal it seems to go with at whatever amount I’m feeling at the time.

Molasses. I actually like the taste of molasses. I will stir a spoonful into a glass of lukewarm water, then add ice (it hardens when it’s cold) for a semi-sweet drink. I also add a spoonful to my coffee in the morning. (BTW, caffeine intake is said to deplete iron…yes, I know, but COFFEE!) And I also make gingerbread cookies because YUM! They’re for my health, I swear! 🙂

Liver, and other organ meats. Liver and chicken giblets have been part of my diet since I was a child, but I am well aware of the ew-factor most people have with them. But I challenge you to try it, especially if you’ve never had them before, or if you’ve never had them prepared in a way that you like. I’ll put some recipes we use below.

Just yesterday, I was feeling especially depleted all day. Dozing at my desk at work, cranky, brain-fogged. My sweetheart made me liver and onions (recipe below) and I ate them over a little bit of white rice with a side of kale, and I felt alive! 6:30 in the evening and I was in a fantastic mood, no headache, no desperate need to go to bed, and I could think and do. I wasn’t wired, and I was able to sleep normally last night, but I within 30 minutes of eating that meal, straight through this afternoon, I’ve had normal levels of energy and vigor that I’d lacked all day yesterday.

Recipes

How to cook greens

Any greens will do: kale, collards,  mustards, beet greens, swiss chard, wild greens, spinach. The density of the greens will determine how long they need to be cooked, but it all ends up basically the same, so go with what you like, and what seems freshest/nicest at the store.

Heat up a pan or pot. Add oil of your choice to heat. You can alternately use bacon or chicken skin/fat. Just let it cook on med until the fat renders out and the meaty bits start to get crispy.

Add chopped onion and garlic (optional) and cook until just fragrant (about 3 minutes).

Chop your greens roughly. I like the stems, but you can leave them out if you want. (If keeping the stems, cut them into smallish bits for easier cooking.) Drop your greens in the pan and stir them to coat with oil.

Sprinkle a little salt, and let them sit about 2 minutes, or just until they turn deep green and start to wilt. Add enough water to cover about half the volume of your greens.

Add a splash of apple cider vinegar (optional, but recommended).

Give it another stir, cover, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 30 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the greens you picked and how done you like them. But keep in mind, the longer you cook them, the easier it will be for your body to draw out the nutrients and the iron you’re wanting. Generally, I say the longer cooked, the better.

Chicken gizzards and hearts

For the holidays, I boil my turkey giblets for about an hour, then chop them finely and add them to my stuffing for a delicious meaty bonus. But for regular week-night meals, you can’t go wrong with a pack of gizzards and hearts and a slow cooker. Usually you can get a pack for under $3 in the meat department, and that’s always enough for the three of us to eat our fill and have leftovers for lunch the next day.

Ingredients:

1 pack (about 1 lb) of chicken hearts and gizzards

1 can chopped or diced tomatoes

1/2 onion, chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

1-2 stalks of celery, chopped

1 TBSP each dried parsley and dried oregano

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Note: all ingredient amounts are estimates. Feel free to add more or less to your preferences and taste. Also, substitute or add other herbs and spices to make it yours.

Throw everything in the crock pot, even the juice in the canned tomatoes. Add just enough water to cover everything. Give it a good stir and cover. Set the crock pot on low for 6-8 hours, high for 3-4 hours, or until gizzards are fork-tender. Serve over rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes.

Honestly, I’ve left this in the crock pot on low for 12 hours, and prepped it on the stove in 1 1/2 hours, so it’s very forgiving. The tomatoes tenderized the gizzards, and that is what you are looking for: fork-tender, almost melty, meaty chunks.

Liver and Onions

This can be made with any type of liver. My preference is, and I recommend, calf liver if you’re just starting out as it’s a little more mild tasting and much more tender when cooked. But chicken livers or cow liver can be put in place just the same.  

Ingredients:

Liver

Onions, big slices

Butter

Flour

Salt, black pepper, garlic powder, to taste

Melt some butter in a medium heat pan. Sauté onions until just barely translucent. Remove to a plate.

Add a bit more butter to the pan to melt.

Coat the liver on all sides with seasoned flour (flour mixed with salt, black pepper, garlic powder to taste). Cook on one side until browned (about 5 minutes). Flip the liver over and cook on the other side until just cooked through (about another 5 minutes). Remove from pan.

Make a bit of gravy in the pan: add a sprinkle more flour if needed and gently whisk it in the remaining butter in the pan. Add about a half cup of water and continue to whisk until a gravy appears and it’s pretty uniform. Turn off the heat and place your cooked livers on top of the gravy. Then put your onions back on top of the liver in the pan. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes.

Serve over rice, or toasted bread, or mashed potatoes, or whatever other gravy vessel feels right.

Or you can always fry them!

I’m not much of a “fryer,” so I can’t give you my way to do it. But I do love me some fried gizzards and fried chicken livers! My sweetheart says it’s much like frying chicken or other meats, so if you know how to do that, replace your meat with organ meat and give it a whirl!

So I have found that simply by consciously making efforts to increase my iron intake, I can almost immediately get relief from my excessive menstruation-induced iron deficiency anemia and keep the horrible tiredness (and all the things that come with it) at bay.

There are many other potential causes of anemia, as there are also many other causes of fatigue. But it didn’t cost me any great effort to try a little thing like adding more iron to my diet, and it works for me. It may work for you. I’d love to hear from you if it does!

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