Iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency in the world affecting nearly 15 percent of the world’s population. Iron is a major nutrient needed by most children and menstruating women. Men on the other hand usually have excess iron since iron is not excreted through the usual routes of urine and sweat. Iron deficiency usually arises by any factor or a combination of three factors which are: low iron diets, poor absorption and excessive loss of blood.
What is iron and why is it so important?
Iron is found in haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, which carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Any surplus iron is stored in the body as a reserve. It is therefore vital that we get our iron from food sources such as iron-rich meat and vegetables.
When our diet is not sufficient in iron, the body starts to use the reserves and once these have been depleted, the blood does not have enough iron and haemoglobin to oxygenate the body. This is called anaemia and according to the World Health Organisation, anaemia is one of the most widespread nutrient deficiency concerns in the world.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
It is possible to be iron deficient without having anaemia. Iron deficiency develops gradually and occurs when dietary iron intake does not meet the requirements. Iron stores become depleted whilst the haemoglobin levels remain stable which is the marker for iron status. People with iron deficiency have no iron stores to mobilise in case the body suddenly requires extra iron. The difference between iron deficiency and anaemia is that anaemia is an advanced stage of iron deficiency where iron stores, haemoglobin and blood levels of iron cannot meet the daily requirements.
Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- Feeling lethargic, weak and fatigued
- Lack of appetite
- Excessive hair shedding
- Shortness of breath
- Mild depression
- Short attention span and irritability
- Restless legs
- Vulnerable to infection due to a weakened immune system
The symptoms above could easily be dismissed for stress or simply for someone being lazy which is why iron deficiency still prevails and its prevalence is high.
People who are likely to be iron deficient include:
- Vegetarians – if you are a strict vegetarian then you are very like to be iron deficient.
- Women of child bearing age – there are two likely reasons for this. Iron deficiency can arise as a result of the loss of blood due to monthly menstruation. This group is also likely to undertake diets, often diets that reduce meat intake.
- Toddlers, young children and teenagers especially if they are fussy eaters. Iron is crucial for mental growth and development. Reduced performance can occur even with mild iron deficiencies resulting in poor school productivity and reduced concentration in older children.
- Some types of inflammatory bowel diseases may cause iron deficiency, especially when accompanied by diarrhoea.
- Some medications can affect our iron status or impede iron stores in the body.
- Some pregnant women may become iron deficient since the infant utilises the mother’s iron stores.
Low iron levels can have a significant impact on athletic performance since iron is required to manufacture haemoglobin, the oxygen carrier that helps with energy production.
Iron is poorly absorbed by the body so although the recommended daily intake of iron is much higher than the daily requirement, in the majority of cases we still do not achieve sufficient iron levels in the body.
How can you boost iron levels?
Consumption of iron rich foods is important to ensure the optimal function of the body’s processes and to prevent many concerns associated with iron deficiency. Rich sources of iron include:
- All types of meat including beef, pork and organ meat, such as liver.
- All types of poultry, especially the darker meat from the legs.
- Oily fish such as sardines and mackerel, as well as oysters and clams.
- Green leafy vegetables, including kale, spinach and broccoli.
One of the best liquid iron supplements that I recommend is Organic Liquid Iron by Viridian Nutrition. This liquid iron supplement contains iron sourced from the curry leaf plant and thus provides the body with a food state of iron which ensures greater absorption than the synthetic forms of iron often prescribed and being a natural source of iron, this liquid iron supplement does not cause constipation nor any stomach discomfort. The formulation also contains organic amla fruit and acerola cherry extracts which are rich in vitamin C, which is known to enhance the absorption of iron.
Organic Liquid Iron is suitable for children from the age of three as well as adults and unlike traditional forms of iron supplements and drugs, this formulation does not overload the body with iron which can be dangerous.