The World Health Organization states that an iron deficiency is the number one nutrition disorder in the world and that eighty percent of people are iron deficient, with thirty percent having Iron deficiency anemia, an advanced state of deficiency.
Females at child bearing age, pregnant woman, preterm and low birth weight babies, infants, toddlers, and teenage girls are all at risk for iron deficiency second to an increased need but it is also proven that low intake of iron rich foods, inadequate absorption of iron, or excessive blood loss, such as during a menstrual period can result in iron deficiency.
If you are an athlete who runs intensely, swims, or cycles your need for iron supplementation may be increased as well as gastrointestinal blood loss can be greater after events or training and it is thought that red blood cell turnover can be thirty percent higher than the normal individual.
Iron is derived from two sources in the diet, heme and non heme products. Heme products are products that come from animal sources and non heme products are sources derived from plants. Sources of heme iron are meat fish and poultry and non heme sources are lentils, beans, oatmeal, tofu, spinach, raisons, and whole wheat bread. Many of our cereals are fortified with iron with non heme products. Heme iron is absorbed the best and research shows that an addition of vitamin C with non heme iron sources increases iron absorption. For example, add some strawberries to your oatmeal and a tomato and spinach on your sandwich.
Some foods inhibit absorption of iron when eaten at the same time such as tannins, an ingredient in tea. It is also thought that if iron is supplemented at the same time as zinc and calcium that iron absorption can be affected. The recommendation is to take supplements with food as this seems to correct absorption issues.
Symptoms of iron deficiency are feeling tired, weak, decreased social development with children, difficulty maintaining body temperature, decreased immune function, and an inflamed tongue known as glossitis. Deficiency can be measured through blood work where your practitioner will review hemogloblin and serum ferritin. When both are below normal ranges, your practitioner will most likely provide an iron supplement. Ask your practitioner for the research behind their recommended supplementation and make sure they address any upper tolerable limits to prevent toxicity.
If you have any of the symptoms below, are in any of the high risk categories, or are a vegetarian, discuss with your practitioner and request a work up at your next appointment. Until then focus on eating iron rich foods. If you are a vegetarian focus on eating vitamin C with your non heme iron sources, and if you aren’t taking a multivitamin start one now, making sure it contains both iron and vitamin C. Be sure to eat with your supplement. Good luck and be well.