Iron deficiency is a result of not having enough iron in the body, which means your body makes smaller and fewer red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs, so a deficiency of iron can result in the following symptoms; weakness, tiredness, shortness of breath, headaches, lack of concentration, pale complexion and dizziness. Iron deficiency can be caused by excessive blood loss or poor nutrition, among other things.
We talked with Dr. Aileen Gray, a Family Medicine Physician who also practices obstetrics, to discuss an alternative source of supplemental iron – the Lucky Iron Fish.
How did you come across Lucky Iron Fish?
I was searching for alternative iron sources for my patients and a friend who can’t tolerate any oral iron supplements and I came across the story of the Lucky Iron Fish. I have an anthropology background so the story really appealed to me on many levels. This is a Canadian story too, which is interesting.
What is the story?
I will summarize the details, but for the full story and research behind it please go to the Lucky Iron Fish website.
It was developed by Canadian Health Researchers from Guelph University who had a grant to study iron deficiency in Cambodia, as iron deficiency was very prevalent amongst Cambodians. About 60% of the women and 44% of the general population were anemic due to iron deficiency. They had developed this iron disc to put in soup or boiling water, as cast-iron cookware is known to transmit iron to food, but it’s also very expensive so they were looking for an affordable version for people to use. However, almost nobody showed interest in using it.
Were there any specific reasons as to why it wasn’t intriguing people?
Consumers thought the shape wasn’t appealing, so they then tried a lotus flower shape, but still, nobody used it. So, they engaged the community elders, a great example of outreach in research, and found out about this species of fish that people believed to be good luck, so they developed these fish shaped ingots and it was much better received. According to the website, about 92% of people there who have it now use it on a regular basis.
What happens when you use the Lucky Iron Fish?
From published studies, the people using the Lucky Iron Fish had a definite increase in blood iron levels for about 3 months, but there weren’t any long-term effects. So, thinking about why, they realized that depending on the time of year, people used water from different sources, so some of the well water had high levels of contaminants that affected the absorption of the iron, so they did a second study to control for that and it showed an increase in blood iron levels over 12 months, and iron deficiency decreased by 43%.
In 2012, a company was created producing and selling the Lucky Iron Fish using Cambodian labour and scrap metal. They sell online for about $25 and for every one purchased, they distribute one for free. They recommend people use it in a litre of water with a couple of drops of lemon juice and boil it for about 10 minutes, and to use that water for rice, or soup etc. The shape is ideal for giving maximum surface area exposure, and using it this way gives a person 75% of their daily iron intake.
Could this replace taking iron supplements?
It’s not the same as an iron supplement, but I have some patients who can’t tolerate any iron supplements and it’s another way of getting extra iron in their diet because obviously what is already in their diet isn’t enough. I have used it with a few pregnant patients, but I haven’t had enough people use it to say what the effects were, but anything that will help get some extra iron in is great. I haven’t had anyone say they are intolerant to it or had any side effects. It’s certainly a very easy way, and if you look at what iron supplements cost, this is a very cost-effective method. It would last for years I imagine. This is going to be a very slow iron replacement method, so it wouldn’t likely work in acute anemia, but if people aren’t taking any iron then it’s better than nothing for sure. Getting it through food throughout the day may even make it better absorbed than taking a larger dose once a day.
Do you have one we could look at?
Yes. I bought two of them, one for my friend to try and one to keep in my office to show people because I love to tell people about it. It’s such a great story- it’s Canadian, it’s biomedical research, and it’s community based.
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