According to Natural Health Expert, Lorna Vanderhaeghe, MS, “Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. One in four women suffers from low iron. Over 57 percent of women do not get adequate levels of iron from their diet.”
Common Symptoms of Low Iron:
Weakness, Fatigue, Paleness, Dark Under Eye Circles, Cold Extremities, Loss of Appetite, Irritability/PMS, Brittle Nails, Hair Loss, Poor Concentration, Dizziness, Poor Sleep, Restless Legs, Low Immune System & Heart Palpitations. Iron deficiency is also associated with Depression, Thyroid Problems, Infertility, Lower IQ, etc.
Did You Know? Hair follicles contain ferritin (protein that stores iron). When ferritin stores decline, it affects the ability of the hair to grow and, instead, non-pigmented fine hairs develop.
Lorna also states that, “we all require up to 20 mg of iron daily from food, but most get less than 10 mg per day from food and often it is poorly absorbed.”
Possible Causes of Low Iron:
- Inadequate Intake (from chronic dieting or restrictions, vegan/vegetarian diet, low intake of iron foods)
- Blood Loss (surgery, menstruating women, certain bleeding disorders)
- Greater Needs – sometimes up to twice as much! (growth spurts in kids/teens, pregnancy/lactation, perspiring athletes)
- Poor Absorption (elderly people, those with digestive conditions or low stomach acid)
Did You Know? Caffeine (tannins), carbonated beverages (phosphorous) & milk (calcium) inhibit iron absorption BUT Vitamin C & protein enhances it! Also, certain plant foods contain iron inhibitors such as phytates and oxalates. Minimize this effect by soaking, sprouting or fermenting grains, legumes and beans!
According to Lorna Vanderhaeghe, “even mild deficiencies can affect your ability to perform mental and physical tasks. You do not have to be diagnosed as anemic to feel the effects of low iron.”
How Does Iron Work?
All of the tissues in our body need an almost constant supply of oxygen delivered to them in order to maintain life. Iron is an essential element for the body as it combines with copper and protein to make hemoglobin, a major component of red blood cells which transports oxygen from the lungs to all the tissues of the body. Iron plays a major role in energy production as it is needed to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels the body’s cells.
About 10 percent of our iron is found in muscles (in myoglobin), which is required for
short-term oxygen storage during physical exertion. The rest is distributed in the liver and other organs, where it is used in other metabolic functions such as detoxification, cell protection, hormone manufacturing, and the even action of serotonin, your happy hormone. Lorna explains that “the average adult body contains approximately 3 to 4 grams of iron.”
How Do We Become Deficient?
Low iron develops gradually. Our bodies store iron (as ferritin) as a back-up supply for times of deficiency. After a prolonged amount of time without adequate iron, these stores will begin to get used up and deplete. When both hemoglobin and ferritin levels become so low that the blood cannot deliver enough oxygen to the cells, iron deficiency anemia develops.
This is why it is important to check both hemoglobin and ferritin levels when doing regular blood tests. Ask a health professional what testing range is appropriate for your age, gender and stage of life!
There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal foods and
is easily absorbed (about 25 percent). Examples include beef, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken (dark meat), fish, seafood, liver, etc. Non-heme iron is found in plants and is generally not quite as well absorbed. Examples include lentils, spinach, sesame seeds, chickpeas, olives, quinoa, oats, blackstrap molasses, raisins, etc. Heme (animal) iron increases non-heme (plant) iron absorption.
Iron is also available in supplemental form. Keep in mind that liquids are easier to digest and absorb than solids due to their larger surface area. Look for a high quality supplement that is manufactured in a way in which it is properly absorbed and does not cause symptoms such as stomach upset and constipation (generally associated with iron supplements). Also, certain supplemental forms of iron are less likely to cause toxicity than others.
Lorna Vanderhaeghe also explains that “simply taking 10 mg of elemental iron per day could provide us with that much needed boost of energy.”
Note that it is possible to have too much ironand there are diseases in which people have a genetic predisposition to retain and store excess iron. However, if you are in fact iron deficient, and looking for a natural approach, ask a product advisor which form of iron is right for you!
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.