Humans need iron to make red blood cells that assist to transport oxygen around the body. Yet, many of us don't get enough of this vital mineral. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that the biggest nutritional disorder in the world is iron deficiency, affecting as many as 80% of people. Why is it, then, that so many of us don't get enough iron?
Causes of iron deficiency
There are various different reasons why people suffer from a lack of iron, but the most common cause is heavy blood loss from monthly menstruation as well as other gynaecological conditions, such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis. It's for this reason that women tend to suffer from iron deficiency more than men. According to News24, at any one time, it's estimated that almost a third of menstruating women could be lacking in iron. Women who experience blood loss during childbirth may also suffer from iron deficiency. Another common reason for iron deficiency is inadequate intake in the diet, particularly amongst vegetarians. Men and women (over the age of 50) need to consume around 8.7 mg of iron daily, while this increases to 14.8 mg for women between the ages of 19 to 50. Children should aim to get around 8 mg of iron daily, rising to 11 mg for teenage boys and around 15 mg for teenage girls. The problem is that iron isn't that vastly abundant in a wide range of foods. It is mainly found in red meat and liver but is also present in lower amounts in beans, eggs, nuts, dried fruit, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. Some people aren't able to absorb iron effectively, which can also result in a deficiency of this mineral, while others who experience internal bleeding may suffer from a lack of iron. Children and pregnant women may also need extra iron as they experience periods of growth and development. People who exercise a lot may also lose iron so may need extra in their diet.
How do you know if you're deficient in iron?
A lack of iron reduces the quality and quantity of red blood cells, causing a condition called anaemia. This can manifest in a wide range of symptoms affecting a person's health, which can often start off subtle and mild over an extended period of time. Because not enough oxygen is getting around the body when someone lacks iron, this can make them feel tired and sluggish - so it stands to reason that this is one of the most common, telltale signs that your iron levels might need topping up. Yet, there is a wide range of other symptoms to look out for, as well. Pale skin, feeling dizzy, cold hands and feet, heart palpitations, breathlessness, headaches and a sore tongue can all occur because of a deficiency in iron. Some people even develop strange cravings for non-food items, like soil. Depression may even be associated with low iron levels, particularly among pregnant women. The only accurate way to find out whether you are deficient in iron is to get a blood test, which will involve taking a full blood count. This will measure the red and white cells in your blood as well as the haemoglobin levels. If a blood test detects that you are short of iron, a medical professional will then try to assess what the cause of this might be, and provide the required treatment.
Taking iron supplements is usually the most effective way to correct an iron deficiency, and these can be prescribed by a GP or bought over the counter. If you don't like taking tablets, the iron gummies from Novomins are especially easy to take, taste good and are made from high-quality ingredients.
Increasing your iron intake
As well as taking iron supplements, there are other ways that you can make sure your iron levels are topped up. Eating a diet consisting of iron-rich foods can help up your iron stores, so regular consumption of things like red meat, poultry, eggs, leafy greens, seeds, beans, pulses, seafood, fortified cereals and dried fruit can help. Iron is better absorbed by the body from animal sources than non-animal sources. If you don't eat meat, it can be harder to get adequate amounts of iron from non-animal sources, but you can help improve iron absorption by combining iron sources of food with vitamin C. For example, drink a glass of orange juice with a meal. Other foods high in vitamin C include tomatoes, red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, oranges, strawberries and kiwis. The handy thing about Novomins' iron gummies is that they've already been infused with vitamin C, making it much easier to ensure the iron is optimally absorbed. Some foods are already fortified with iron, such as bread, cereals and infant foods, so these can be useful additions to the diets of children, in particular, or fussy eaters. It's also important to be aware that iron absorption can be hindered by tannins contained in tea or coffee, so avoid drinking these with a meal. Certain high fibre cereals, as well as foods rich in calcium, such as dairy, and some medicines, may also interfere with effective iron absorption.