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Finding a good herbalist

The recommendations in this article are entirely suitable for a person to use for themselves but, if things are quite bad, or there are other issues that need attention and you know that you need further help, there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist to support you, there's some suggestions on how you might go about finding such a person here



I don't want to use this page to repeat the abundance of readily available material on the Internet on anaemia, rather this article is intended to share several points of view from a herbalist's perspective.

I have been in full time practice as a medical herbalist in Christchurch, New Zealand, since 1989 and have met and treated many people with anaemia in that time. As well as the many patients who have had laboratory studies to show they are low in haemoglobin, ferritin, vitamin B12 etc, I also use a certified point of care device that rapidly measures blood iron (haemoglobin) levels and a high-magnification microscope to analyse peripheral blood smears that can quickly pick up microcytic (iron deficient) anaemia or macrocytic (B12 deficient) anaemia.

Blood is remarkably uniform. Every drop is the same as every other drop. So, taking a sample of it lets us see the whole picture and, if we use the technology available, it can tell us if there is a deficiency or imbalance in iron, or B12, or folate, and many other things.

However, it is a common misconception, because we can so quickly pick up anaemia, that we can therefore just as accurately measure the levels of many other vital nutrients via the blood. Things, for example, that people know are important to have good levels of, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, iodine, vitamin C, and so on.

Unfortunately, the tissue levels of these and a great many other nutrients cannot be fairly assessed by a blood test. We can get a snapshot to see if some of them are within a normal range in the blood, but that does not tell us if they are lacking in the tissues.

The point I want to make is that, whilst we can pinpoint anaemia as an identifiable issue, it is unlikely that it occurs in isolation and that there will probably be further deficiencies that are much harder to pick up from blood testing.

In other words, the person who has become low in iron is likely to be low in other minerals too. Only taking an iron supplement and not attending to their wider diet, or their digestion, or the causes of why they have become anaemic in the first place, means their health may continue to decline, even when their blood iron levels return to normal.

If I pick up that a person is anaemic through my own testing, or from their lab tests, then there are several questions that I will immediately be thinking of

1) if they are low in iron, what else could they be lacking and how is the quality of their diet?
2) how is the health of their digestive system, i.e. how well are they absorbing their nutrients?
3) is there an illness or imbalance causing the anaemia? - e.g. excess bleeding with menstruation or any kind of internal bleeding from a digestive disorder.



I have found that a very useful tool in practice is to ask a person to give themselves a score from zero to 10 for the health of their diet. 10 being as good as they could imagine, zero being as bad as they could imagine.

The lowest I have heard people score themselves is a 2 or 3, the highest a 9. Most people, who are making an effort to eat well, put themselves around a 7 or 8, and when you ask them to confess what dietary 'sins' are causing them to mark themselves down, they merely have one or two 'treats' that are really perfectly fine and healthy.

However, when a person puts themselves on a 6 or below, you almost always find that they are already quite aware that they are not eating enough fresh food but rather are eating too much processed and refined foods, or that there are some other bad habits they have fallen into.

The question of what actually constitutes a healthy diet' is something that obviously occupies the attention of a great many people who can have widely varying views on the answer and I am well aware that I am now simply adding another voice to a mountain that is already much too high to climb!

Oh well, I take comfort from the fact that I'm not trying to sell you anything in the process of sharing these ideas, also that the views that I present have very much stood the test of time.

What follows, for diet, are two general articles that you may find useful to read on this subject;

The first is a detailed article on what reliably might be considered excellent nutrition - it's here

The second is based on the ancient understanding that we are constitutionally different according to whether we are naturally cooler or hotter and, at the same time, either dryer or damper, and it can be seen that there are some common themes that play out on the kinds of foods that best suit and are best liked by different people from the different constitutions. The section that introduces the general subject of the constitutions is found here, a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are is found here



Digestive health, how it is and how we might improve it when needed, is a subject that is very dear to all herbalists. Our medicines work, first and foremostly, on the digestive system, and we tend to become a bit obsessed with liver and gut health after a while in practice, simply because it so often makes such a profound difference to so many of our patients when we do.

I want to share from my own experience how I have often found a person's blood iron level to be low and done nothing more than take steps to improve their liver function for it to rise back to normal levels.

This has been such a consistent observation that, unless the blood iron levels are really low, I will often tell my patient that I want to see how much they can improve their mild anaemia with digestive and liver herbs first, and that taking an iron supplement is only plan B.

Given I test the haemoglobin levels of at least 95% of the people who come to see me I have been able to put this to the test many hundreds of times now, and I would estimate that at least 75% of the time, the blood iron levels considerably improve if you can do something to improve the health of the gut and the liver. To put this into practical detail, levels usually improve at least 10 to 15 points over the course of a month with nothing more than liver or gut support.

I don't know if other practitioners have found the same thing or have tested it in this way themselves. I didn't expect this to happen and, at least initially, it was simply an observation of a recurring patterns whereby the levels weren't low enough to need a supplement, but they were below the ideal and I would be checking them on a subsequent visit. Eventually I put 2 and 2 together and saw this consistent pattern that happened when we do things to improve the health of the liver.

People, quite rightly, usually associate the liver with detoxification programs and I want to emphasise here that the last thing I would be inclined to do with a person who was badly anaemic, run down etc. would be to put them on an intense detox program. There are plenty of ways to support the liver without needing to put the system under stress. Anyone who is interested to learn about some of the ways I typically work in this area can read more on the article on liver health here

Further to that, if you know your digestive system could be better but don't know where to start, have a look around the site at to see if any of the common digestive conditions talked about are ones that relate to you or consider getting closely acquainted with one of the greatest of all digestive tonics, Gentian root, written about in practical detail here

Silybum marianum (St Mary's thistle)


Medical Matters

The third question to have in the background of looking deeper into anaemia is whether there is a health condition such as excess menstrual bleeding, or any internal loss of blood, e.g. in the digestive system.

The first is reasonably simple to assess by getting a measure of how often pads or tampons need to be changed during the period, but the second can be harder to rule out and may need a stool sample to be tested for blood.

Internal bleeding is obviously a matter for medical intervention and, on that subject, if the anaemia is so low that there is a recommendation for blood transfusion or an iron injection then, if it was my patient asking me for my opinion, I would likely recommend that they accepted the treatment.

It takes a long time to build up iron levels with absorption from the gut, estimates are a maximum of 6mgs a day from any form, and if the levels are dangerously low (i.e. below 60) then it can take too long to get back to a safe level even with the best of supplements.

On that subject, the routine prescription of non-organic iron supplements with all the bowel stress and constipation they cause is inexcusable in this day and age. If you need to take an iron supplement, be sure that it has co-factors such as vitamin C with it and that it is an easily absorbed, bio-available form of iron that is being given. There are numerous such products now readily and inexpensively available.

Surely the most common cause of iron anaemia is excess menstrual bleeding and there are a number of old ways in herbal medicine that have been seen to help in this area - the herb Shepherd's purse being one notable article and a page on it and how to use it is found here, likewise, a detailed article on the subject of painful periods has strategies that may well help when the periods are too heavy - this is found here

Inflammatory bowel disease that can cause bleeding within the bowel is obviously a serious matter that requires medical attention, but it may also be of much help to take a holistic approach to its long-term treatment and some thoughts and ideas from clinical experience are presented in detail here

Lastly, a number of people have an undiagnosed food intolerance that is causing chronic inflammation in the gut that, in turn, is causing problems with absorbing their nutrition.

People with gluten intolerances are famously prone to anaemia to give just one example. This is a complex area where accurate diagnosis is especially important. To learn more, read the article on allergy and intolerance found here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd