Focus: Iron Deficiency

This is a new on-going series I’ve started that will be focusing in on specific topics in-depth. 

Why is Iron Important?

Iron is an important mineral that is essential in our diet as it helps replenish the stores of iron in our body. Iron is also found inside our red blood cells, specifically in haemoglobin, and it binds the oxygen in our blood to be carried to other tissues. Without our blood being oxygenated we can feel tired and sluggish, more on this below.

Where Can I Get Iron From?

Foods that are high in iron include; red meat and other animal products (beef, chicken, fish, eggs), legumes, milk and green leafy veg also contain a different form of iron.

 

Iron-rich foods, including eggs, spinach, peas, beans, red meat,
Image: Bigstock

 

Iron has a few friends and foes when it comes to absorption. It appears that when we eat red meat there is an increase in how available the iron is in our body, we’re not sure why, but it may be the presence of a particular amino acid that may be helping out. Vitamin C also helps the solubility of iron in the gut and prevents inhibitors binding. Fibre prevents iron being readily absorbed and similarly with polyphenols which are found mainly in herbs and tea, but also in fruit and veges. Keep this in mind, if you are someone who is iron deficient, like me – I personally take my supplement with orange juice to try and boost absorption, it’s also why you see TV ads with cereal (often fortified with iron) being eaten for breakfast with a glass of orange juice to go with it.

 

15565236-bowl-of-cereal-with-orange-juice-diet-concept-stock-photo
Image: Stockphoto

 

How Common is Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency is most common in women between adolescence and menopause, they have an increased daily requirement for these reasons. You can find out more information here. However, that’s not to say that men don’t need iron too. Their requirement is lower, however, they have a greater basal losses, so maintaining iron levels in the diet is still important.

Am I Iron Deficient?

Vegetarians and vegans (especially females) are most at risk of being iron deficient. But if you’re like me, a big fan of red meat and animal products and are still classified as iron depleted, deficient or even anaemic, there may be some other explanations. There may be a low availability of iron and consumption of too many inhibitors in your diet, heavy menstrual blood losses for long periods of time, long distance running, pregnancy, damage to the gut mucosa and certain kinds of infection.

Keep in mind, there are different levels of deficiency and they all mean something different. You could be just depleted in iron which means there are little stores in your body but everything else in terms of iron transport and your blood haemoglobin is still fine. Deficiency is when transporters, stores, overall iron is all low but your red blood cells are still fine. Anaemia is the most severe category, where you haemoglobin has been depleted of iron.

 

iron-deficiency-anemia
Image: Medindia

 

Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Reduced ability to concentrate
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Dizziness

These symptoms are quite vague and could apply to a bad night’s sleep and a skipped lunch, but if you think it may be an on-going problem for you, visit your GP. A simple blood test can determine whether you need to make some dietary changes or include a supplement in your daily routine.

Personally, being on an iron supplement for the past month has dramatically reduced my dizzy spells, I’ve stopped napping all day and I’m back to my energetic self. If it’s something that you’re concerned about, visit your doctor for a blood test, it’s a very simple thing to fix and can make you feel a whole lot better!

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