What is Iron Deficiency? Do You Have It?

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iron-deficiencyAre you feeling too exhausted to get off the couch? Catching every cold that’s going around? If you’re a woman, you could be iron deficient.

Iron deficiency occurs more frequently in women than in men. Menstruating women lose iron every month, and pregnant women need to supply extra iron to their babies. This is why men’s iron levels are usually okay while women are often playing catch-up.

Other causes of iron deficiency include blood loss due to ulcers, cancer, hemorrhoids or long-term aspirin use. Those with low dietary intake of iron (such as vegetarians) and malabsorption disorders such as celiac disease are also at risk.

Iron is an essential mineral for human health. It is required for several vital functions, including carrying oxygen to the tissues in the form of hemoglobin, participating in enzyme reactions, and supporting immune function.

It is estimated that 400 million women in the world are anemic, and more than a billion are low in iron. Unfortunately, the billion who are low in iron are often unaware they are iron deficient. Iron stores (checked with a test called serum ferritin) need to be almost completely depleted before a lower red blood cell count (anemia) will develop.

One of iron’s main functions is to carry oxygen in the red blood cells to tissues throughout the body. Iron is also needed to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fuel for each cell. If the body is low on fuel, it won’t run optimally. Iron is also needed for a variety of enzymes involved in proper brain, liver, and thyroid function; synthesis of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone; and heart health.

Symptoms of iron deficiency include:

• Dark circles under the eyes
• Fatigue and muscle weakness
• Increased infections
• Shortness of breath
• Heart palpitations
• Poor concentration
• Low, listless mood
• Dizziness
• Cold hands and feet
• Chest pain during exercise
• Restless legs

Increasing iron levels can be done with food or through supplements. There are two types of iron found in food: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is the most absorbable form of iron and is found in meats, poultry and fish.

Good sources of non-heme iron are dried fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. To boost absorption of non-heme iron in foods, combine these foods with vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruit, berries, melons, peppers and tomatoes. Cooking with cast-iron cookware can also increase the amount of non-heme iron in foods.

If you  are diagnosed with anemia, dietary measures alone are often not enough to treat iron deficiency anemia, therefore supplements play a vital role in managing this condition.  There are many types of iron from tablets to liquids, and one may be better for you than another. Talk to us to see what is best for you.

For best results, take iron supplements between meals, and do not take them with milk, calcium, tea or coffee, as this may reduce absorption.

And remember if you are low in iron, see your health care practitioner regularly for proper monitoring.

Photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023