Goodbye Gluten, Hello Iron!

We have been going through an interesting and challenging time period. I have not been feeling at all like myself, with zero energy and other signs of a distressed body. I referred to it as feeling “bone tired”; my husband refers to this time period as the time I “fell apart”. We did a load of lab tests with my MD/ND, and yesterday we finally got the results.

Turns out I basically have no reserves of iron. To throw out some numbers, I am at a 6, when it should be at least 70 or 110! When your iron is that low, it affects a lot of other things in your body. This explains why my thyroid isn’t humming along, for example. It seems I am not absorbing the iron from my food, which may be caused by some food intolerances. We also had a food antibody test done…

…which found that I am reacting fairly highly to all gluten grains, dairy, eggs, and a couple of random fruits (bananas, cranberries and pineapple) and almonds. When your digestion is messed up with foods it can’t digest well, sometimes you can’t absorb iron well. That is at least the working theory for me at this point.

How are we going to fix it? Well, starting yesterday, I am avoiding 100% all of the foods that I have high antibodies too. I will also be doing iron transfusions (8 of them), to get my iron levels back to normal. Once my iron is back to normal, we will wait until the spring to recheck my thyroid and see if it bounces back. We will also check my iron in the future to make sure that it doesn’t get low again. If it does, we will explore other reasons why I am not absorbing iron.

I am so thankful to find out why I have been dealing with overwhelming fatigue. While I can’t get in to start my transfusions until January (we are hoping for cancellations so that I can get in sooner), I am just thankful to have that hope that I will feel so much better once my iron is back up.

Ironically, I mentioned that I referred to how I was feeling as being “bone tired”; well it appears I wasn’t far off there! One of the lab results indicated that my bone marrow was working extra hard right now (or something like that, I admit, I didn’t follow all of the technical language – I’ll blame it on low iron levels!). My low iron caused this.

It also means no banana ice cream, no maple whipping cream, no cranberry apple mini pies, no cranberry orange sauce, and definitely no gluten. But that’s okay! I already cook mostly gluten-free for my daughter. I will just have to make sure that if eating out, I don’t have soy sauce over my rice, or when I make a sandwich I use gluten-free bread, etc. So there isn’t a whole lot of gluten to take out of my diet anyways. I will miss eggs the most, I think. And cranberries. And bananas.

But if it helps me absorb iron better, it will be worth it! Plus, the vast majority of foods I enjoy, are perfectly fine for me.

Should I be on the GAPS diet?

I’ve talked about the GAPS diet before, and how it helps heal the digestion tract, which can then help with a wide variety of health issues. For some, it could help heal the digestion tract so that absorbing iron wasn’t an issue anymore. At this point, I have chosen not to be on the GAPS diet, because being on a completely starch-free diet over time makes me feel unwell. However, I think that making homemade bone broths and eating lacto-fermented vegetables and beverages is always an excellent way to boost your digestion, so I will do those things regardless. The GAPS diet may not be ideal for everyone long term, and I may be one of those unable to feel well long-term on it, but I do know that many have been able to use is successfully to help with a wide variety of health issues. The gut is so important for good health after all!

So, that is my little personal update. I am looking forward to better energy in the future!

Photo: Moyan_Breen/Flickr

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Carolyn says

    I found your site through your deviled eggs and wanted to give something back. 🙂

    I had a ferritin level of 7, despite regularly running 10K races and feeling mostly ok. I eat primal-ish (love greek yogurt) so a lot of good grass-fed beef, pork, etc. Anyway, what I have had to do is use *chelated* iron. It is highly absorbable and no GI effects. Got my ferritin all the way up to 22 .. which is the bottom of the range that goes to 200 or so. Will test again in Feb 2013. And someday I won’t have heavy cycles. So if you want to use supplements to treat the problem in addition to dietary changes, etc, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you refuse all the iron supplements doctors prescribe and recommend. I do not understand why they are unaware of chelated iron supplementation. Well, it’s more expensive maybe. But it WORKS. Good luck!

    • KimiHarris says

      It’s great that you weren’t feeling terrible with your low iron! My doctor would consider 22 still much too low (on the lab it gives ten and up as a baseline – but that is just because it is an average of people’s iron levels). He wants it to be at least at a 70. My nurse friend who at one time dealt with low iron said her doctor said at least 80. Anyways, it can take some people up to a year to build up to that point when they are as low as mine. The low iron makes me feel so terrible that we are moving forward with the transfusions to help me feel better more quickly. I am thankful for them. However the chelated iron is great to know about! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Tree says

    I have the opposite problem and must donate blood to reduce my iron load. Several of the guidelines I was given was to not take vitamin C as it increases iron absorption, and refrain from red meats and organ meats. It may be the C, and organ meats, especially liver, will be beneficial for increasing your iron load. I wish you a speedy recovery.

  3. Maria Bear says

    I just finished 10 infusions of iron- (same issue as you). It really does work!
    Even better- found out WHY I was so low- if you can get a lab test for MTHFR, do so. Now I am on the easiest to absorb B vitamin injections. Good Health!

    • Chanda Arneson says

      I found your comment interesting. About a year ago I found out I have an MTHFR mutation. Now I am dealing with low ferritin (6) and my hemoglobin is at 12. They are talking infusions but I want to know WHY I’m not absorbing. I have felt all along that there must be a correlation. My bs are testing normal but, I’m finding out that just because they are in my blood doesn’t mean they are absorbing properly. Thank you!

  4. Nicole says

    I too was diagnosed with intolerance’s to gluten, dairy, eggs, almonds, soy. I too tried GAPS once and it was not for me. I am still struggling to not include these foods in my diet. I am wondering what your meals will look like and what test you took to discover your intolerance’s. I am glad to hear you found out your issues because I was a bit “crazy” before I discovered my thyroid problem. I wish you all the best and so appreciate your blog:)

  5. Kirstian says

    Good luck to you on all if this. I am a year out from my transfusions. I drank a lot of vit c suppliments to make sure the iron absorbed well. I have sluggish adrenals and thyroid so if you want any help there let me know. I have found loads of help from stop the thyroid madness. I did stage 5 of Gaps basically but then found the turkey broth I was on was a food I was allergic too. I am currently working on candida/fungus and heavy metals so that hopefully I won’t “fall apart” again either. It’s no fun. Praying for you.

  6. Dawna says

    As I was reading this post, I couldn’t believe how similar some of our issues are/were! I recently had bloodwork done and my iron was at a 5! Definitely deficient, and I was told 80 would be the low end of “normal” range. I was also reacting to gluten grains, dairy, bananas, cranberries, and pineapple – plus a few other things. I eliminated those foods from my diet for a year, plus did cleanses for yeast, parasites, and heavy metals. I only recently found out that my iron was low, (as well as B12), so my focus has adjusted to getting that number up. Unfortunately iron is one of those things that takes a long time to change, but nothing having to do with good health is ever a quick fix.

  7. Lisa says

    I needed this post! I’ve been unexplainably tired lately. I’ve had low iron issues with my past pregnancies, but never felt like this when not pregnant. Can you tell me what type of doctor you found to help you? Homeopathic, naturalist, common family physician? I wonder if my OB could help out. Thanks!! I know you are relieved to have answers.

  8. felix says

    I too had ferritin levels of 6 last year! I cut out gluten– retested a month later & it increased 18 points … then eliminated all grains & legumes & the ferritin levels increased about 25 points per month. In 6 months, it increased to the high triple digits! This was done without dr’s supplements too (I was told it would take a considerably long time to reach double digits!). (I did take an over the counter iron supplement that’s easy on the stomach). It’s funny that you & another commenter mentioned banana’s because I react to that as well!

  9. Crystal says

    I really really hope you’re able to reply to this message. I’m trying to figure out what kind of Dr I need to go see because my Dr is saying that my level of 15 isn’t ‘low’. So she must don’t understand that the normal range is for the results can cause these symptoms.

    • says

      Crystal, there are several tests doctors do to check for iron levels. 15 would be considered normal for the other one, I believe, just not the ferritin level test (this is the one I am low in).

  10. Lee says

    Hi Kimi,

    Thank you for this post. I’ve just had a call from my MD. After 5 months on iron supplements and injections, my ferritin and iron absorption levels are still way too low, far below the minimum. I have to see a haemotologist now, but am soooo scared of the results. My body has a problem absorbing iron, and this can be caused by a myriad of things. The one I fear the most, is cancer. Anyway, I just had to share this with someone, haven’t told anyone yet.

    Incidentally, in case anyone might know of a connection, my Vitamin D levels are also too low. Have been supplementing these, but no real increase.

    I have normal periods, no weight loss or aches, just a general fatigue that never quite seems to go away.

    Am on escitalopram and the Pill – both of which I have read could cause iron deficiency.

    Kimi: have your iron levels returned and stayed at normal? I hope so!

    Thanks for “listening” and any tips that you might have.

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