Each Friday, my plan is to write a post that covers five things about…things. It could be running related, mom related, or completely random – but I’ve been wanting to write these posts for a while. So, TGIF!
Today’s #FridayFive is about how my running journey has ebbed and flowed as someone who suffers from iron-deficiency anemia. Anemia is not uncommon in runners; believe it or not, we are slamming our feet into the ground enough to obstruct red blood cells. Who knew, right?
My battle with anemia began when I was pregnant with my daughter in 2014. I was able to get it under control and stop taking the dreaded ferrous sulfate (hello, wonderful GI issues…). I was not yet a runner at this point.
When I was pregnant with Michael, I was doing on during the pregnancy, but afterwards, I was a zombie. And if I neglect taking ferrous sulfate, I always turn back into a zombie.
So, what’s the deal? Keep reading to learn a little more about iron-deficiency anemia.
1: Anemia causes nasty and strange side effects, some of which you may not realize.
Most people think that anemia causes some fatigue, and that’s true. However, there are many more side-effects than fatigue. Of course, these side effects could mean lots of different things, so you’d have to check with a doctor. BUT according to WebMD…here are some of the less common side effects of iron deficiency anemia:
- Pica, which is the strange craving to chew off stuff, like ice (this was me through pregnancy)
- Mood swings, mood changes, and depression (also me)
- Terrible headaches
- Pale skin
- Increased heart rate
The ice thing didn’t last very long for me, but I definitely felt the mental and emotional side effects. In fact, that’s what caused me to discover that I had an iron deficiency. Fatigue also played a large role; I was still completely wiped out after sleeping 9-11 hours straight.
2: Don’t take ferrous sulfate before a workout.
Ferrous sulfate is a time-released elemental iron capsule. Eventually, my body got used to taking it. However, when I first began taking ferrous sulfate, my GI system suffered big time. From constipation to the total opposite to plain old cramping ALL DAY, I began to think my running days were nearly ruined. I mean, I HAD to take the supplement or I would have never gotten out of bed, and I am glad I eventually deduced ways to take it in a way that didn’t affect me quite as much:
- Take it with something citrus such as orange juice. Apparently, citrus helps your body absorb iron better.
- Do NOT take it on an empty stomach or you will want to die.
- It may seem like a risk to take it with food, but taking it after a large meal is the only way it doesn’t bother me.
- Do NOT take it with caffeine – it will kill your stomach slowly!
- If you’re prone to acid issues, be prepared to nix acidic foods.
- Not a digestive tip, but iron is best taken on its own “away” from other drugs. The pharmacist explained that iron likes to bind to everything. PS: Iron does not alter the effectiveness of hormonal birth control pills
3: It takes 2-4 weeks to feel better on ferrous sulfate; your iron levels don’t adjust overnight.
When I started taking the iron supplement, I thought I would feel better immediately. False (and mine was low, but it’s not like it plummeted). It took a good three weeks or so to begin feeling like myself again. After about ten days, I was able to stay away a little bit longer, but I was still struggling to do every day tasks without complete and utter fatigue.
It definitely affected my pace, too. I remember that when I finally figured out what was going on with my iron levels, I went for a two mile run at almost 14:00/mile and couldn’t run anymore. It was so frustrating because I was training better but getting slower (and not by choice!). On the same note, once I got my levels back up, my pace decreased quite a bit. I’m sure that my newly found paces are a combination of both regaining proper iron levels and training better.
4: Iron deficiency is more common in women than men.
It’s true. Guys, I had to gross you out, but women lose blood every single month. Heavy menstrual cycles can absolutely compromise your iron levels.
The same goes for pregnancy – you lose blood. Blood loss during my C-section is what started this whole debacle for me.
The first person to prescribe iron for me was my OB/GYN, so it’s best to discuss if you think iron deficiency anemia is a possibility.
Remember that if you’re anemic, you’re going to feel so tired you can’t stand it. I’m not talking about “I need a nap.” It’s more like “I am so tired that I have now neglected doing everything in my home and I can barely function.”
5: Iron deficiency anemia typically isn’t chronic, but it may require maintenance.
Most people who develop anemia from iron deficiency can take the supplement for 3-9 months and they’re fine. Usually, it’s a matter of regaining your iron levels and moving on. Your doctor might ask you to come in for routine bloodwork to keep checking on your levels, but that’s not too bad.
I’ve been told I need to continually take ferrous sulfate every two days indefinitely. Lucky me!
For a lot of people, a few simple changes can keep their levels in check: Eat more iron rich food (leafy greens and red meat) and take a multi-vitamin that contains iron.
Please note: I am not a doctor or health professional. This information is based on personal experience and is not meant to be used to treat or diagnose any condition. Please speak with your healthcare professional before beginning an iron regimen as too much iron can cause health problems.