Feeling Pumped with Iron.
How iron deficiencies can leave you feeling flat.
Have you found yourself just feeling exhausted lately?
Do you feel winded just going up the stairs even though you feel physically fit?
If so, you might be lacking in iron – especially if you’re a woman, and you might be surprised to learn that it is one of the most common nutritional deficiency in adults.
So let’s talk about why iron is so important to your body, what can happen if you’re not getting enough of it, and when you need to take an iron supplement.
Why Do You Need Iron?
Iron is an essential mineral and nutrient. It’s major function is to help transport oxygen throughout the body. It’s a component of haemoglobin, the red blood cells that distribute oxygen around the body, and myoglobin that is found in muscles and tissues.
How Your Body Uses Iron
Iron is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells and dietary iron exists in two forms – ‘haem iron’ found in meat, poultry and fish, and ‘non-haem iron’ found in iron-fortified breakfast cereals, vegies and nuts. Most ‘one-a-day’ supplement formulations contain a typical day’s iron requirements.
The main contributors to iron are iron fortified cereals (including bread, and breakfast cereals), meat/meat products and vegetables.
What Exactly Is Anaemia?
You’ve probably heard the term before but let’s just explain it. Anaemia is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin. Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type of anaemia where a lack of iron in the body leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells.
People often don’t even know they have anaemia until they have signs or symptoms. They may appear pale or ‘sallow,’ feel fatigued, or have difficulty exercising,
If you’re low in iron, you may also:
- Have a fast heartbeat
- Have cold hands and feet
- Feel short of breath
- Crave strange substances such as dirt or clay
- Have brittle and spoon shaped nails or hair loss
- Sores at the corner of the mouth
- A sore tongue
In severe cases iron deficiency can also cause difficulty in swallowing.
If you’re tired or lethargic, see your doctor. A simple blood test can determine if you are iron deficient.
How Much Iron Do You Need?
The big difference here falls along gender lines.
Men need 8.7mg of iron a day whilst pre-menopausal women require 14.8mg a day because of their menstrual cycles.
After the menopause a woman’s iron requirement will become similar to that of men. Ideally, you should be able to get all the iron you need from your daily diet.
- Liver (avoid during pregnancy)
- Meat, fish and tofu
- Iron-fortified breakfast cereals or bread
- Pulses and beans
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruit – such as dried apricots, prunes and raisins
- Wholegrains like brown rice
- Soybean flour
- Most dark-green leafy vegetables such as watercress and kale
Getting More Iron From Your Food
Around 15-35% of haem iron is absorbed, depending on how much iron our body needs. Haem iron isn’t affected by other foods in the diet. However, only 2-20% of non-haem iron is absorbed, and its uptake can be influenced by other foods.
Phytates from wholegrains and calcium form dairy can actually reduce non-haem absorption. Polyphenols found in teas, peppermint tea, herbal teas, coffee and cocoa drinks also reduce iron uptake.
This effect can be reduced by consuming vitamin-C-rich foods or drinks with a meal. Vitamin-C-rich vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, peas or green leafy vegetables) and any fruit juice are easy ways to boost iron uptake from non-meat sources.
You should be able to get all the iron you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you do take iron supplements be careful not to take too much as this can have a harmful affect.
Iron Needs During Pregnancy
Pregnant women can become short of iron, so make sure you include iron-rich foods in your diet.
All iron-rich foods are useful to boost iron intake, but you should avoid liver and liver-containing foods (such as pate) in pregnancy. Liver is a rich source of vitamin A, which can be harmful to an unborn baby. Iron supplements may be needed if your anaemia is severe, but check with your midwife or GP first before taking iron supplements.
If you do decide that an iron supplement is right for you I recommend Floradix.
It’s freely available from most pharmacies in an easy-to-take, liquid formula.