Iron Deficiency: Are You at Risk?
Do you ever feel exhausted, or have shortness of breath, or feel like you are unable to focus? You might be suffering from iron deficiency. Iron is essential for your overall wellbeing, and yet many people and particularly women do not get enough, either due to a poor diet, or an unhealthy lifestyle.
How Does it Happen?
- Not enough iron-rich food in your diet
- Impaired iron absorption
- Heavy menstruation
- Internal bleeding
A diet high in processed food and low in fresh, natural foods will not contain enough iron. Many people these days tend to eat fast foods, rich in sugar and trans-fats, which leaves little space in the diet for wholesome, iron-rich foods.
Your intestine is a very sensitive organ and certain disorders or surgeries, like celiac disease or gastric bypass surgery, can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb iron quickly or even at all.
Women who experience long or heavy periods may be at higher risk of iron deficiency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the typical amount of blood loss during menstruation ranges from 2 to 3 tablespoons, lasting for 4 – 5 days.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) estimates that 20% of women of childbearing age have iron deficiency anemia. Pregnant women require greater amounts of blood to support their growing baby, which means they are at higher risk of iron deficiency.
Ulcers in the stomach, polyps in the intestine or colon, colon cancer are just some examples of medical conditions that cause internal bleeding, which can lead to iron deficiency. Aspirin and other pain relief medication can also cause internal bleeding in the stomach if they are used regularly. If you are concerned you may be suffering from internal bleeding, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
The Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
These can be very mild and barely noticeable. According to the American Society of Hematology (ASH), most people don’t realize they have a deficiency until they get a routine blood test. If you think you may be at risk, ask your doctor for a blood test.
- Exhaustion / fatigue / weakness: The body uses iron to make a protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through your body and helps your muscles and tissues to function. When your body is running low on iron, it can’t get its oxygen fix, leaving you feeling extremely tired.
- Difficulty focusing: Neurotransmitters need iron to function properly. Iron deficiency can also affect your entire nervous system.
- Shortness of breath: The less iron in your body, the less oxygen is flowing, and this may affect your breathing. Whether you are doing physical activity or just slowly walking to your car, it can become difficult to catch your breath.
- Difficulty exercising and muscle pains: Studies have shown that iron deficiency affects your endurance, which makes it harder, and less enjoyable, for you to exercise. The lack of proper oxygen flow also means muscles take longer to recover from a work out, and may be sore.
- Brittle nails: The condition of your nails can indicate many diseases and illnesses, including iron deficiency. How do you nails look under the varnish?
- Infections or constantly getting sick: Your immune system needs iron to function at its best.
According to the German Institute of Nutritional Research, other symptoms include:
- Tingling feeling in the legs
- Hair loss
- Pale skin
- Tongue swelling or soreness
- Cold hands and feet
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
Potential Health Complications from Iron Deficiency
- Pregnancy complications: In severe cases, infants can be born with a low weight, or prematurely. This is why it is recommended that pregnant women take an iron supplement.
- Delayed growth in infants: Children who are iron deficient can suffer from impaired immune system function, leading to more frequent infections. In severe cases there can be a delay in their physical and mental growth.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat: When your body is low on oxygen due to iron deficiency, your heart has to pump more blood to make up for it. This can lead to irregular heartbeat and in severe cases enlarged heart and heart failure.
Increase Your Intake of Iron
- Eat more iron-rich food like:
- Red meat
- Pumpkin and squash seeds
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach
- Seafood like clams, sardines,
- shrimps, oysters, oily fish
- Iron-fortified foods
- Iron is better absorbed with Vitamin C. Include more Vitamin C foods like:
- Citrus fruits
- Green and red bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- If you are iron deficient, your doctor may recommend you take an iron supplement.
Iron is an essential nutrient for your overall wellbeing, and not getting enough can seriously affect your body. Take charge of your health by including plenty of iron-rich foods in your diet.