Iron Willed

The other day I got asked a simple question about tea, requiring a yes/no answer. And it was this: “I’m anaemic, should I switch to herbal tea?”

This was on Quora, where I’ve previously had a great deal of enjoyment making fun of stupid questions ( as in this post) . But rather than reach for the snark, I took a moment to realise that this person does have a serious health condition, and according to Quora, I’m an “expert”.  So, perhaps just this once, a simple answer was the best idea.

But the way the question was presented did bother me, it really asks for a simple answer. And I just know you can find them on Quora.  So I suggested to the person who posted it that they kill the question, and in return, I’d write an entire blog post on the topic.

And so, dear reader, that is where you find yourself.

The simple answer to the yes/no question is yes/no.

Because here’s the thing – human biology is complicated.

If you google it, you’ll get the factual advice that several tisanes (herbal teas) are made with herbs that contain significant traces of iron. Raspberry leaf, yellow dock, dandelion and nettles are probably the main suggestions.

And you’ll also find that tannins in tea (most prolific in black tea) may hinder non-heme iron absorption.

Well, amazingly it’s exactly the kind of iron that is the four abovementioned herbals.

CASE CLOSED… except hang on, here’s some actual facts, as unfashionable as that is. I’ve even linked them to some info sources.

  1. You can drink white, oolong or green tea and reduce tannins.
  2. You can eat meat or shellfish, as heme iron isn’t affected by tannins
  3. You can stagger your intake, i.e. have your tea two hours either side of your meal
  4. You can add vitamin C, and therefore boost the absorption of iron, by squeezing lemon in your tea.
  5. Raspberry leaf can cause miscarriages
  6. Yellow dock, dandelion and nettles might be an “acquired taste”

In other words, it’s complicated, and there is no simple yes/no answer. What a surprise.

Now, one of the things I learned when I did my medical degree is… I never did a medical degree. I basically googled this stuff.

So perhaps I shouldn’t be offering advice. Perhaps I should just be saying “see your doctor”. It’s a thought.

Perhaps I’ll have a cup of non-nettle tea and think about it.

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