Did you know: Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies. Think about how often you have felt tired throughout the day, had difficulty concentrating, or even noticed that your hair is not as healthy as it once was. These symptoms may not seem like a big deal, but they are all related to not having enough iron in the body!
Why iron levels matter
Oxygen: Iron has an enormous responsibility in the body. Its job is to bring oxygen to all your red blood cells. Without enough oxygen, your cells would be unable to function optimally, leaving you feeling tired and exhausted. This lack of healthy red blood cells is known as anemia.
Energy: Our human cells need iron to convert food into our primary energy source, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Low iron levels means less ATP produced, leading to suboptimal energy levels.
Immunity: Because of iron’s important role in cell growth, it is needed for immune cells to divide and mature. Without enough iron, the body’s natural immune system cannot properly defend itself against potential infections.
Pay attention to iron levels if you are…
Most individuals get enough iron through their diets. However, the following populations are especially at risk of iron deficiency and should be more aware.
Children: Children have higher iron requirements because they are in a rapid growing stage. Those with iron deficiency may have lower cognitive performance and poor growth compared to other children of the same age.
Menstruating women: Women of fertile age lose blood every month, and with it, iron. It is estimated that healthy women lose 0.87mg to 5.2mg of iron each cycle. Women with a heavy period (more than 80ml of blood shed her cycle) are especially at risk!
Pregnant women: During pregnancy, cell division increases dramatically to meet the needs of the fetus. As the fetus grows, more iron is required to make the new red blood cells. Low iron levels during pregnancy is correlated with the risk of mother and infant mortality, premature birth and low birthweight.
Common signs of iron deficiency
Iron deficiency is known to cause uncomfortable symptoms that affect your daily life. When this deficiency is not addressed timely, the symptoms will become increasingly severe:
- Unusual tiredness
- Pale skin, nails or gum
- Shortness of breath when doing normal, daily tasks
- Hair loss, or weak and dry hair
- Frequent and recurring headaches and dizziness
- Nails that are spoon shaped
- Noticeable heartbeats
- Poor concentration
- Swelling and soreness of the tongue and mouth
- Restless legs, especially at night
The best way to determine if you have an iron deficiency is to get a blood test. Your doctor will be able to give you a complete blood count to see if the number of red blood cells is normal.
How to increase iron levels naturally
Most people with iron deficiency do not eat enough iron-rich foods. Increasing these foods in your diet can help to increase iron levels naturally.
In addition to red meats, leafy green vegetables are also a great source of iron. Be sure to eat them with a source of vitamin C to support absorption. Luckily, most vegetables are naturally high in vitamin C too!
Best sources of iron:
- Seafood (e.g. oysters, anchovies, sardines)
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale, Swiss chard)
- Blackstrap molasses
Reduce iron inhibitors
You may be getting enough iron, but these iron-inhibiting habits may be preventing optimal iron absorption!
Black tea: Enjoy teas? Black tea can decrease the absorption of iron by up to 50%! Make sure you take your iron supplements or consume iron-rich foods at least 1 hour away from black tea.
Calcium supplements: Do you take calcium supplements? It’s great for bone health, but calcium and iron cannot be absorbed optimally at the same time. Take your iron supplements or iron-rich foods at your meals, and keep that calcium supplement for before bedtime!
Your grains and legumes: Most plant foods contain phytate, an anti-nutrient. Phytate reduces iron absorption by up to 80%. Even though grains and legumes are healthy, they can still cause trouble for iron. To reduce phytate levels, you can soak dried grains and legumes for at least 8 hours before consumption.
The bis-glycinate form of iron has been shown to have superior absorption. If you’re looking for an iron supplement to help prevent iron deficiency anemia, try Orange Naturals’ Iron Complex. This formula features iron bis-glycinate and is easy on the stomach – that means no constipation! It also has vitamins C and B as cofactors to increase absorption.
Iron deficiency is common but once you get your levels back up, you will feel like a whole new person! More energy, healthier nails and hair, a clear mind – it’s all possible with these nutrition and lifestyle recommendations!