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The model is simple: for every little fish bought in the developed world, one is gifted to someone in a developing country. The beautiful little fish arrives in a spiffy hardboard box, protected by bubble wrap.The box has simple instructions for use and clean up. It also gives directions for recognizing the symptoms of anemia. The more the Lucky Iron Fish is used, the more iron received. Because iron is absorbed slowly and in small quantities by the body, it is recommended that the fish be used on regularly (every day if possible) over an extended period of time to see a beneficial effect. Three to six months is usual.Anemia is the most common nutritional problem in the world, mainly affecting women of child-bearing age, teenagers and young children.The World Health Organization estimates that two billion people – over 30% of the world’s population – are anaemic, mostly due to iron deficiency. The WHO report states that stopping iron deficiency is a priority – for individuals and countries.
In developing countries, such as Cambodia, the condition is particularly widespread with almost 50% of women and children suffering from the condition, which is mainly caused by iron deficiency.
The standard solution – iron supplements or tablets to increase iron intake – has drawbacks. The tablets are neither affordable nor widely available, and because of the side-effects people don’t like taking them.
Canadian, Dr Christopher Charles had a novel idea. Inspired by previous research which showed that cooking in cast iron pots increased the iron content of food, he decided to put a lump of iron into the cooking pot, made from melted-down metal. (You can hear and see an explanation on his TED talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Lf6glgKt3Q)
Dr. Charles’ recipe is simple, “Boil up water or soup with the iron fish for at least 10 minutes. That enhances the iron which leaches from it,” he directs. “Then take it out. Now add a little lemon juice which is important for the absorption of the iron.”
Cooking in iron pots releases iron but it is difficult to quantify the amount of iron that is released and whether or not that iron is bioavailable (can be absorbed by the body). Iron skillets tend to rust and they resulting ferric iron cannot be absorbed by the body. And the process of preventing an iron skillet from rusting, heating it at high temperatures with oil, blocks the release of iron during cooking.
The LUCKY IRON FISH, on the other hand, is made from a particular type of iron and its shape, size and weight are calculated to release about 70 micrograms of iron per gram after boiling for 10 minutes in a litre of acidified water (or about half that in soup). However, if you put leafy greens in soups like spinach then the efficacy of the fish will be reduced. For optimal results it is suggested to boil drinking water with the fish and lemon, or citric acid.
Around 2,500 families in Cambodia are now using the iron fish and the Lucky Iron Fish company, set up by Gavin Armstrong, has distributed nearly 9,000 fish to hospitals and non-governmental organizations in the country. Trials on several hundred villagers in one province in Cambodia showed that nearly half of those who took part were no longer anaemic after 12 months.
The benefits are substantial. Timely treatment can restore personal health and raise national productivity levels by as much as 20%,” with the poorest and most vulnerable standing to gain the most from the reduction of anemia.
A wondrous story in a time of such international dismay in general. LUCKY IRON FISH is a “B Corp Corporation, and part of a community that “goes good.”
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