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How to Deal with Iron Deficiency and Its Effects During Pregnancy

Approximately 3.3 million women have iron deficiency anemia (Looker et al., 1997). On top of that, it is more common during pregnancy (West, 2008).

Worldwide iron deficiency effects upwards of 2 billion people (Zimmermann & Hurrell, 2007). That is about 1 in every 3 people. Incredibly, it is a leading risk for disabilities and even death worldwide.

What is Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency is one type of anemia. Anemia is when there is an inadequate level of red blood cells in the body which can be caused by low amount of iron, and a lack of vitamins such as folate and vitamin B-12 (Anemia, 2017). There are other types of Anemia but those are more rare blood disorders or caused by other serious ailments.

Iron is used to make hemoglobin, which is the substance in red blood cells that carry oxygen to the rest of the body. (West, 2008). Red blood cells increase by 30% during pregnancy.  Therefore, a higher requirement for iron is needed.

Often this leads to symptoms of tiredness, sluggishness, headaches, pale skin, brittle nails, cold extremities, inflammation of your tongue and poor appetite (West, 2008; “Anemia”, 2017). And one more unique symptom is bizarre cravings, such as a craving for ice. This is likely an indication of an immediate need for minerals such as iron.

Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy

During pregnancy iron is in great demand from the growing baby and a woman’s iron storage can be quickly used up leading to deficiency. This deficiency probably leads to fatigue and mental fog, but don’t let those benign symptoms fool you. These symptoms can cause serious defects to the fetus and poor pregnancy outcomes (Zimmermann & Hurrell, 2007). These can be harmful to a babies eyes, bones and even their brain development (West, 2008).

Why You Are Iron Deficient and Recommendations

Generally, there may be a number of causes of iron deficiency from blood loss to a poor diet.  However, recent research has shown the profound effect acupuncture has in dealing with iron deficiency. Especially, improving iron binding capacity in the blood (Xu, Xu, & Sui, 2012).

One specific cause may be from blood loss. This could simply be from a women experiencing a heavy menstrual blood flow. We recommend understanding your menstrual cycle  to become familiar with your body’s needs throughout your cycle.  If you find it is out of balance, we suggest checking out acupuncture to help regulate and rebalance. Likewise, the deficiency could be from a type of chronic bleeding in the body from Gastrointestinal bleeding or a hernia. In these cases, seeking further healthcare would be needed. Again, acupuncture has been proven to help promote digestion to support gastrointestinal issues.

Another cause of iron deficiency could be a general lack of iron from our diet. This could be that we are not consuming enough iron rich foods. Iron supplements are a great and simple fix.  However, here are some foods to increase iron in your diet (Anemia”, 2017):

  • Red meat, pork and poultry, especially the liver
  • Seafood such as duck and sardines
  • Beans: White, Kidney and Chickpea beans
  • Lentils
  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
  • Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots
  • Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas
  • Peas
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Pumpkin Seeds

Lastly, something to consider is that iron deficiency is a symptom of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) because gluten tends to interfere with the gut microbiome, damages the gut lining, causing “leaky gut syndrome” making nutrients like iron less likely to absorb. On top of that, gluten will often bind essential minerals (like iron) and not allow them to be properly absorbed.

Focus on Pregnancy

For all of you pregnant ladies out there, we want to ensure that you are prepared for a beautiful birth and setting yourselves up for the best pregnancy!

If you are interested in nutritional support during your pregnancy, we sincerely want to be your resource of care. We offer nutritional counseling and highly recommend acupuncture during pregnancy.   


Anemia. (2017, August 08). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20351360

Lee, H. J., Park, N. H., Yun, H. J., Kim, S., & Jo, D. Y. (2008). Cupping therapy-induced iron deficiency anemia in a healthy man. The American journal of medicine, 121(8), e5-e6.

Looker AC, Dallman PR, Carroll MD, Gunter EW, Johnson CL. Prevalence of Iron Deficiency in the United States. JAMA. 1997;277(12):973–976. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540360041028

West, Z. (2008). Acupuncture in pregnancy and childbirth. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Xu, M., Xu, A. P., & Sui, M. H. (2012). Effect of lifting-thrusting reinforcing-reducing manipulations of acupuncture on serum ferritin content and total iron binding capacity in blood-deficiency syndrome rabbits. Zhen ci yan jiu Acupuncture research, 37(1), 41-45.

Zimmermann, M. B., & Hurrell, R. F. (2007). Nutritional iron deficiency. The lancet, 370(9586), 511-520.