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Lucky Iron Fish: Does it Really Work Against Anemia?

Lucky Iron Fish
The Lucky Iron Fish, an award-winning iron ingot that infuses your meals with a healthy dose of iron, is available here from Amazon

Meet the Lucky Iron Fish, a fish-shaped cast iron ingot that leaches elemental iron into water and food when you put in a pot of boiling water or soup. This innovative little tool was originally developed to tackle mild to moderate iron deficiency anemia in Cambodia, and it has been proven to work when used together with something acidic, such as lemon juice.

The Lucky Iron Fish has also been thoroughly tested for safety, and research suggests it is safe for most people to use, including most pregnant women. And, because it releases only about 5-10 milligrams of iron into the cooking water, it is unlikely to cause side effects like nausea and constipation, which makes it a great natural alternative to iron tablets and pills. The Lucky Iron Fish has been promoted as a great natural source of iron for athletes, vegetarians, vegans and premenopausal women.

So, here's how it works:

  1. You first boil up water or soup with the iron Fish in it. After about 10 minutes, you can take the Fish out.
  2. Add 2-3 drops of something acidic such as lemon juice to the liquid. This enhances the release and absorption of the iron from the Fish.
  3. Add ingredients as normal, and enjoy your iron-infused drink or meal.

The Lucky Iron Fish is made of highly bioavailable iron that can be absorbed by the body. More specifically, it is primarily composed of ferrous iron, with less than 12% non-ferrous iron (1). Thanks to the type of iron it is made of, and its shape and size, the Lucky Iron Fish releases a consistent amount of iron that is easily absorbed by the body every time the Fish is used. While also cooking in a cast iron pot or skillet releases iron into the water or food, it is difficult to determine how much is released and whether that iron is easily absorbed by the body. What's more, manufacturers of iron pots and skillets typically recommend that you season your pots and skillets, which purportedly reduces the release of iron during cooking.

The Lucky Iron Fish can provide up to 75 percent of an adult's daily recommended intake of iron if used every day in the correct way (2). And, several studies suggest that this little fish-shaped ingot really can help treat iron deficiency and in some cases, even anemia. If you need convincing that the Lucky Iron Fish really works, and that it is safe to use, here's what studies have shown:

  • A 52-week longitudinal study, conducted in rural, impoverished regions of Guatemala, found that regular use of the Lucky Iron Fish offers a safe and effective means to reverse iron deficiency anemia in high risk populations that cannot purchase iron-rich foods or dietary supplements (3).
  • A team of scientists from the University of East Anglia in the UK found that dietary factors can have a major impact on how well the iron released by the Lucky Iron Fish is absorbed by the body. Vitamin C was found to enhance iron uptake and to reduce the production of free radicals produced by the Fish (4).
  • A group of researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada investigated the safety of the Lucky Iron Fish, and found that contaminants were either not detectable in the water infused with the Fish, or the levels were below the acceptable standards set by the World Health Organization (5).
  • In a randomized, controlled trial conducted in rural Cambodia, a 46% reduction in the prevalence of anemia was observed within the intervention group at the end of the 12-month trial (6).

But, there is also evidence that the Lucky Iron Fish might not always work. A randomized, controlled trial published in the American Journal of Nutrition found that the Iron Fish did not increase hemoglobin concentrations in Cambodian women with mild or moderate anemia. However, the researchers also noted that the majority of the women did not suffer from iron deficiency at the beginning of the study, which suggests that low iron levels were not the cause of anemia in this population. While iron deficiency is a very common cause of anemia globally, there are also dozens of other possible causes. The researchers concluded that they do not recommend the use of Iron Fish in Cambodia or in countries where the prevalence of iron deficiency is low and genetic hemoglobin disorders are high. (7)

Would you like to give the Lucky Iron Fish a try? Provided that you don't suffer from severe anemia, which requires immediate medical attention, and that you don't have a hemoglobin variant such as hemochromatosis, the Lucky Iron Fish is probably safe for you to use, and you can buy it here on Amazon. However, if you have any concerns whatsoever, make sure that you talk to your doctor first. Also, the manufacturer states that infants under 12 months of age should not be given water or food cooked with the Lucky Iron Fish, but that it's okay for nursing mothers to use the Fish.