How nettle improves ferritin and hemoglobin levels

For our bodies to utilize the oxygenated air we breathe we rely on a humble mineral known as iron. Iron is an essential constituent of hemoglobin, a protein that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body. Our body also stockpiles reserves of iron in a protein known as ferritin. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when there is too little circulating iron and/or iron stores in our body, which has been associated with weakness, fatigue, impaired cognitive and physical performance, gastrointestinal disturbances, and more[1]. Since protein works hand in hand with iron for its proper transportation, storage, and absorption, consumption of both an iron and protein rich diet is crucial to healthy daily functioning and optimized physical and mental performance.

Nettles’ high protein and iron content (coupled with components that increases iron absorption) makes them ideal for enhancing hemoglobin and ferritin levels. Dietary iron from animal sources (e.g. meat) is called heme iron, while iron from plant sources (e.g. legumes, vegetables) is called non-heme iron. Nettles are a good source of the latter, containing as much iron per raw 100 grams as spinach. As an added benefit, nettles are a rich source of calcium and some vitamin C, which helps enhance the absorption of iron. Nettles are also a reliable source of protein; nettle powder contains almost three times the amount of protein than traditional barley and wheat flour, and 60 times the amount of iron! Additionally, nettles have been shown to have a better amino acid profile than many other green leafy vegetables and are rich in many of the essential amino acids.. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and we cannot make essential amino acids on our own, which means we must get them from the foods we eat[2][3][4]. This is especially important for vegans and vegetarians, since many plant sources of protein do not contain all of the essential amino acids. Finally, because of their high flavonoid content[5], nettles can also have an indirect positive impact on hemoglobin levels. This is because nettles have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body[6] [7] [8] and bodily inflammation induces a low hemoglobin level (commonly called anemia of inflammation[9]).

Considering all their benefits - from high iron and protein content to anti-inflammatory properties – improving hemoglobin and ferritin levels can be as simple as incorporating more nettles into your diet! By doing this, you protect against anemia and consequently improve various cognitive and physical metrics in pursuit of general wellbeing.

Emily Bridges, MS, RD, Registered Dietitian at Harvard University Dining Service

[1] National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Iron Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Accessed 11/2/2020.

[2] Adhikari BM, Bajracharya A, Shrestha AK. Comparison of nutritional properties of Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) flour with wheat and barley flours. Food Sci Nutr. 2015;4(1):119-124. Published 2015 Aug 7. doi:10.1002/fsn3.259

[3] Rutto LK, Xu Y, Ramirez E, Brandt M. Mineral Properties and Dietary Value of Raw and Processed Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica L.). Int J Food Sci. 2013;2013:857120. doi:10.1155/2013/857120

[4] Shonte TT, Duodu KG, de Kock HL. Effect of drying methods on chemical composition and antioxidant activity of underutilized stinging nettle leaves. Heliyon. 2020;6(5):e03938. Published 2020 May 23. doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03938

[5] Joshi B. C., Mukhija M., Kalia A. N. (2014). Pharmacognostical review of Urtica dioica L. Int. J. Green Pharm. 8, 201–209. 10.4103/0973-8258.142669

[6] Chrubasik JE, Roufogalis BD, Wagner H, Chrubasik SA. A comprehensive review on nettle effect and efficacy profiles, Part I: herba urticae. Phytomedicine. 2007;14(6):423-435. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2007.03.004

[7] El Haouari M, Rosado JA. Phytochemical, Anti-diabetic and Cardiovascular Properties of Urtica dioica L. (Urticaceae): A Review. Mini Rev Med Chem. 2019;19(1):63-71. doi:10.2174/1389557518666180924121528

[8] Dhouibi R, Affes H, Ben Salem M, et al. Screening of pharmacological uses of Urtica dioica and others benefits. Progress in Biophysics & Molecular Biology. 2020;150:67-77. doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2019.05.008

[9] Nemeth E, Ganz T. Anemia of inflammation. Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 2014;28(4):671-vi. doi:10.1016/j.hoc.2014.04.005

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