No-Iron Maiden (a second guest article by Josephine McCulley)

All of the Vampire, But None of the Sparkle

Josephine McCulley

For the anemic, every surface is a nap-magnet.

I was in the best shape of my life.

Working out with a trainer three times a week, running four times a week, cycling everywhere. I was eating perfectly. I ditched my vegetarian ways for organic meat, poultry, fish. No added salt, everything fresh and cooked at home, tracking all my nutrients, taking the right supplements. I wasn’t drinking at all and was sleeping plenty. For a while I felt the best I ever had in my life, too.

And then I started to feel tired. Really tired.

So, I took an extra rest day weekly. I ate a little more, drank more water, leaned a little more on caffeine. Then I fell asleep at work, hit my head on my desk, and was sent home. How humiliating. I was confused, my doctor wasn’t.

Severe anemia. Vampire disease. I didn’t have enough blood. My iron level should have been at least 50, ideally 100-250, and mine was three. If I didn’t get my levels up soon, my doctor said I would need to go to the hospital for blood transfusions. Funny, I was already getting my daily recommended allotment of iron from my diet. SO confused, and my doctor didn’t even laugh when I joked that I wasn’t sparkly like Edward Cullen. Awkward.

Anemia is a lack of red blood cells in your blood, so your body can’t get enough oxygen and nutrients out to your organs, muscles, and other tissues. According to theMayo Clinic, 1-2% of American adults suffer from anemia related to an iron deficiency, 5% of women. If you’re physically exhausted all the time, often cold when others are fine, experience shortness of breath easily, you might be anemic even if you eat well and take vitamins. You’ll need to consult your doctor to find out, especially since anemia can be a symptom of a bigger problem, or other conditions could be responsible for your symptoms.

Getting more or enough iron can be tricky. Iron from animal sources is better absorbed than plant sources, but only a percentage of the iron in both is actually absorbed. According to Elizabeth M. Ross, M.D., L.D.N., tea, coffee, cocoa, spinach and oregano inhibit iron, as well as calcium. Other problems with getting enough iron? If you develop bleeding ulcers, exercise vigorously (the foot falls of runners are strongly linked) or are a menstuating female, you’re loosing red blood cells more often and your body needs more iron. Anemia actually develops once your body’s stores of iron have been low for quite some time. Completely replenishing stores can take 6 months of supplementation.

One of the best ways to get more iron is to simply eat iron rich foods with some fruit or citrus, since vitamin C aids in iron absorption. Iron supplements can also be helpful, but most of them are made with the plant based iron that isn’t absorbed as well. Liver oil supplements work much better, but can be hard to find. I get mine at PCC Natural Market.

Don't put off making sure that there isn't something you can't fix on your own.

In my case, my doctor couldn’t tell me for sure why I was so anemic. Ulcers were an issue, I was also eating a lot of spinach, having a little caffeine with every meal (diet cola was my one vice), and I was doing a mix of intense weight lifting, distance running and full on sprints. Best I can figure the combination did me in. It took me three months just to get up to a level where I didn’t fall asleep all the time. Another seven months later and I’m still struggling, still taking high quality liver oil iron supplements.

My advice, as no type of medical professional what-so-ever? No matter how much you think you’re attending to your health, you might not be doing such a good job. If you get unusually tired don’t lean on caffeine. If you get lots of headaches, if your stomach always pains you, if you can’t sleep, don’t continually lean so heavily on over-the-counter fixes. Go to your doctor. When your body talks you should listen. And for goodness sakes, mind your iron!

For more information on anemia, check out

Josephine McCulley is a freelance writer for Associated Content and other sites. Currently living on a couch in Arlington, Washington, she is also a certified personal trainer, a former communication professional in the luxury travel industry, and an extremely grateful survivor of Eric Nelson’s brilliant Latin classes at Pacific Lutheran University. (Editor’s note: I did not put her up to that, and I have to acknowledge that it was Susan, not me, who helped teach her to write so well.)