It is an unfortunate fact that iron deficiency and anemia are relatively common in runners. Those who run are at an increased risk for iron deficiency as iron is lost through sweat, foot strike hemolysis (basically, battering the red blood cells in your feet), the GI tract and, for female runners, menstruation.
Iron deficiency is characterized by fatigue, mental fog and difficulty staying warm (check out a more extensive list of symptoms here). Anemia and iron deficiency impair your body’s ability to transport oxygen, which can severely impair one’s ability to train. Basically, being low in iron is something that all runners should do their best to avoid.
For many, the solution to this problem is to keep an eye on iron levels through blood tests, or supplement at a low dose throughout high training volume periods, to avoid “getting in the hole.” Iron pills, or liquid supplements, however are renowned for their ability to wreak havoc on the digestive system. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was another solution?
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Here’s where the Lucky Iron Fish enters the picture. The Lucky Iron Fish is exactly what it sounds like…a fish made of iron. You place the fish in the pot of whatever you’re making that involves boiling water and voila, you’re upping your daily iron intake. Sounds almost too good to be true, no?
The Lucky Iron Fish made Maclean‘s list of the “Top 5 designs making the world a better place,” in 2012. They are a certified B-corportation, which means a commitment to transparency and positive social impact at all levels of operation.
Canadian Running reached out to Lucky Iron Fish’s founder and CEO, Dr. Gavin Armstrong, to tell us more about how it works.
CR: So, how did the Lucky Iron Fish come to be?
GA: Well, it all started at the University of Guelph. I heard that another student, Chris Charles, was experimenting with cooking with iron to increase the available iron consumed through food. And my thought was, “hey, this could really be a solution to a global problem, this is something that I really need to be a part of!” Approximately 3.5 billion people are impacted by iron deficiency or anemia worldwide, so I knew that this was something that could change a lot of lives. I founded the company in 2012.
CR: Have you targeted runners as a group that has the potential to benefit from the Lucky Iron Fish?
GA: When you’re really looking into anemia and iron deficiency, it doesn’t take long before you’re fascinated by the way that endurance training takes its toll on the body’s iron levels. We reached out to the University of Guelph cross-country and track team. They were very enthusiastic about being able to incorporate supplementation into their meal preparation and even more excited about the idea that through dealing with their iron issues, they could also help other people around the world do the same, through out buy one, give one program. So, for every Lucky Iron Fish that is purchased from us, one is donated to a family in need. Originally, we were partnered with NGOs in Cambodia, but now we’ve branched out to more NGOs and some of them are even staying in Canada and be routed to First Nations communities where anemia is prevalent.
CR: How is the Lucky Iron Fish different from taking an iron pill?
GA: Supplements are interesting–essentially, when you supplement, you’re purposefully overdosing your body with iron, which is why there’s often uncomfortable side effects. Supplementation targets your circulating iron, whereas with the Lucky Iron Fish, we’re targeting your stored iron. Plus, a supplement is something that, if you’re pretty anemic, you have to take every day, whereas the Fish can be incorporated into your everyday routine, it’s pretty much impossible to overdose using and it lasts for around five years.
CR: So what’s the best thing to “make” with the Fish?
GA: The most efficient way is to boil water, with the Fish in your pot, with a few drops of lemon or lime juice added. The acidity helps to activate the release of the iron into the water and vitamin C also increases your body’s ability to absorb iron. But, we know that just boiling water isn’t the most exciting thing, so we’ve actually got a recipe page going on our site, including some traditional Cambodian recipes that represent what some of the people overseas are using their Lucky Iron Fish to make.