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Iron Deficiency Anaemia and Celiac Disease: The Link

To this day, I would not have a diagnosis of Celiac Disease, if I wasn’t sent to a Haematologist because of my consistently low iron levels. I always have had low iron from when I was a young child and as I grew older, it was almost an expected retort, “oh well you are a woman, so that’s why you are iron deficient”. Even as woman, we should not just be low in iron because we have a period. Doctors need to stop dismissing woman and their problems.

If only someone had dug a little deeper. Looked at my fatigue, my “IBS” and my ill health and joined the dots! Unfortunately Celiac Disease is still seen as something rare, when in fact 1 in 100 people have it.

I was always really pale, really ,tired, prone to constant infections and not well. My iron was consistently low, but whenever I took iron tablets, I got really sick from them and my iron levels never improved. In fact one of the common indicators of iron deficiency anemia in a person with Celiac is refractoriness to iron replacement. This means that your serum iron levels and Ferritin (stores of iron) do not improve on iron tablets and other supplements containing iron.

It stands to reason that if you cannot absorb iron from the food you are eating, you will not absorb it from your iron tablets. So it doesn’t matter how many vitamins and supplements you take, if your intestines cannot digest it and assimilate it into your body properly than you body cannot utilise it. Another reason doctors should be more vigilant in checking their patients with low iron and no response to treatment. Insist in a test for Celiac!!

Celiac Disease prevents absorption of nutrients from the intestines, to the bloodstream, among these is the vital nutrient iron. Iron is a key component of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. So if there is not enough oxygen in you cells, not only will feel exhausted by also your cells cannot function optimally.

Before the celiac diagnosis, when my iron levels were virtually non existent, I was even given iron intravenously by a drip of Venofer. It was the first time I felt really great and full of energy. The thing is my levels still did not improve drastically and it was at that time, my GP sent me to a haemotologist.

Even once I was diagnosed with Celiac and began cutting our gluten, I still was very aware of including more iron rich foods in my diet. I had to make sure I ate a small amount of red meat daily (yes daily). I had to either eat a meat meal, or a slice of cold meat, or some biltong ( the South African delicacy of dried meat sticks). Eggs are also a rich source of iron, as are raisins, dried apricots and liver (which I unfortunately don’t like so don’t eat it) and beetroot, one of the most gorgeous veggies to eat and so easy to grow. Also check out this salad for good iron rich food.

Even a year later now, my iron levels have improved dramatically, but the stores are still taking a while to build up. Don’t forget that the process of healing with Celiac Disease only begins with cutting out gluten; that is only the start of the journey. The body will take time to correct the years of damage.

Do you have low iron levels or did you have them before being diagnosed with Celiac Disease? How did you get diagnosed? Was iron the clue, or was it your thyroid or you digestive problems that were the key? How much did your doctor know about it. I now tell my doctor things and what’s gluten free and whats not :)

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