Iron – An essential mineral
Ever feel really tired although you have been sleeping well? Ever get out of breath although you are healthy and fit? Then there may be a possibility you are lacking in iron.
Iron deficiency is very common particularly in women. Our iron needs fluctuate throughout our lives. Gender, age and general health will play a role in how much iron you need. Most people can get adequate amounts in their diet but occasionally supplements can be required. Women in particular need to be more aware of their intake as we need more in our diet than men and are more prone to deficiency.
So why do we need iron?
Iron is an essential mineral. We need iron as it helps to transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron is an important component of haemoglobin which is the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body.
Haemoglobin represents about two-thirds of the body’s iron. If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. A lack of red blood cells is called iron deficiency anaemia.
Without these healthy red blood cells your body won’t be getting enough oxygen and will cause you to become fatigued. You can get so exhausted it affects your brain function and even your immune system’s ability to fight off infection. For pregnant women severe iron deficiency can increase the risk of their baby being born early or smaller than normal.
Iron has other important functions too it helps in maintaining healthy skin, nails and hair.
How do you know if you’re Iron Deficient?
- Shortness of breath
- Tiredness even when rested
- Fast heartbeat
- Cold hands and feet
- Brittle and spoon shaped nails
- Hair loss
- Sores at the corner of the mouth
- A sore tongue
- Severe iron deficiency can cause difficulty in swallowing
If you’re overly tired or feeling any of these symptoms your doctor can diagnose iron deficiencies with a simple blood test.
Those most at risk of iron deficiency :
- Women pregnant or breastfeeding
- Those suffering from kidney failure (especially if you are undergoing dialysis which can remove iron from the body)
- If you have an ulcer, which can cause blood loss
- If you have a gastrointestinal disorder that prevents your body from absorbing iron normally (such as Celiac disease , Crohns disease, or ulcerative colitis )
- Those who take too many antacids, which can prevent your body from absorbing iron
- Work out a lot (intense exercises can destroy red blood cells)
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you may also need to take an iron supplement, because the body doesn’t absorb the type of iron found in plants (Non Haem iron) as well as it absorbs the iron from meat (Haem iron). Vitamin C aids the absorption of non haem iron.
Guideline daily amounts:
- 0-3 months-1.7mg/day
- 7-12 months-7.8mg/day
- 1-3 years- 6.9mg/day
- 4-6 years- 6.1mg/day
- 7-10 years- 8.7mg/day
- 11-18 years 11.3mg/day
- Over 19 years 8.7mg/day
- 11-50 years 14.8mg/day
- Over 50 years 8.7mg/day
About 1mg/iron/day is lost via urine, faeces, sweat
For women Menstruation adds an additional loss of 20mgiron/month
Iron Requirements are greater during growth for example adolescence and pregnancy.
The body has the capacity to increase its iron absorption in the face of increased physiological demand such as during pregnancy, lactation or growth spurts, and in conditions of iron insufficiency or following acute blood loss.
Some good sources of iron include:
- meat and poultry
- nuts and seeds
- dried fruit, such as dried apricots
- wholegrain’s, such as brown rice and fortified cereals
- most dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli , spinach and curly kale
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