Are you over 30 and often feel tired? Do you have heavy periods? Do you have brittle nails or weak hair? There’s a potential reason that you may not be aware of: you may be iron deficient!
You may have heard your friends mention taking an iron supplement, or heard a thing or two about iron deficiency, but not really known what it is. Not surprising, because so many people don’t know the details! Here, I’ll fill you in on what iron and iron deficiency are, the causes, effects, and solutions to an iron deficiency!
What Is Iron & What Does It Do?
Iron is a nutrient and its main purpose is to carry oxygen in your red blood cells throughout the rest of your body so that your cells can produce energy. Iron deficiency “occurs when you body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
There are two types of iron in foods: heme and non-heme. “Heme” is a type of protein found in meat, fish and poultry, and is the type most easily processed and used by your body. The non-heme is found in plants like beans and spinach, but isn’t as easily absorbed by your body.
Have you ever wondered how much iron you SHOULD be consuming? Not to worry, you’re not alone! These are the guidelines for iron intake for women ages 18 and above.
- Pregnant women: 27 mg
- Women 18-50: 18 mg
- Women over 50: 8 mg
Iron deficiency doesn’t usually cause major complications, but rather has persistent and unfortunate symptoms. However, if iron deficiency persists for a long time, it can lead to real health issues, including stunted growth, pregnancy complications (premature birth and low birth weight) and heart problems (rapid or irregular heartbeat). If you’re wondering whether or not you may have an iron deficiency, check out this list of symptoms to see if you fit the bill:
- Physical weakness
- Difficulty regulating body temperature
- Lowered pain threshold
- Hair loss
- Lowered immune system function
- Heightened risk of infection
- Impaired memory and learning abilities
- Brittle nails
- Poor appetite
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Strange cravings like dirt, ice, and clay
What Causes Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency is a common form of anemia, particularly in women, and many women are iron deficient. The World Health Organization’s estimate states that roughly 8% of women and 10-20% of younger women in the Western world are iron deficient. The causes of iron deficiency are most commonly:
Pregnancy & blood loss
Women are more prone to iron deficiency because of blood loss during periods and pregnancy. Though the female bodies does compensate by increasing average iron absorption from 1 mg per day to 1.5-3 mg per day during your period, or even up to 5 mg per day during pregnancy, sometimes this compensation isn’t enough, resulting in iron deficiency.
Lack of iron in your diet
Vegetarians are often very low on iron, as they consume no meat, a main dietary source of iron for most people, and considering that 60% of vegetarians are women and 80% of vegans are women, these are relevant dietary causes for iron deficiency in women. Even meat-eating women often don’t have a meat-heavy diet, which can contribute to iron deficiency.
Inability to absorb iron
Though unusual, another cause of iron deficiency can be an illness that restricts the body’s ability to absorb iron. Illnesses like Celiac’s disease that affect the body’s (more specifically, the intestines) ability to absorb nutrients often cause nutrient deficiency, iron deficiency among these.
How Can You Boost Your Iron Levels?
Here at Get Healthy U, we always say: Nutrition before supplements! There are so many ailments and deficiencies that are fixable with the right nutrition plan. A nutritious diet is your strongest weapon when fighting an iron deficiency!
Make a conscious effort to eat iron-rich foods. For a lot of people, these foods aren’t a part of their consistent diet, but they can easily become part of your daily life. Plus, all of these iron-rich foods are also delicious! Talk about a win-win. To increase your body’s ability to process and absorb iron, eat iron-rich foods alongside a source of Vitamin C to increase absorption (good sources of Vitamin C include bell peppers, leafy greens, orange juice, kiwi, citrus fruits, papaya, and the list goes on!)
If you can’t get your iron levels where you want them to be with nutrition alone, then perhaps an iron supplement is the right fit for you! Warning: they can cause constipation and nausea, but if you are low on iron these symptoms may not affect you. Keep in mind: having too much iron in your body is also an issue. The goal is to find a happy medium! Follow the instructions per your particular supplement and consult your doctor to be sure your chosen supplement is right for you.