Worldwide, dietary iron deficiency is considered to be the most common nutritional problem. Essential for life, iron is a component of haemoglobin, the red pigment in blood that transports oxygen from the lungs to all part of the body to cells and removes the waste product carbon dioxide; the body also needs iron to make myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles. Women are most at risk of iron deficiency because of blood loss through monthly periods.
Iron is a vital component of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It is therefore needed for the production and release of energy in your body. Iron plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy immune system and helps to destroy invading micro-organisms such as viruses and bacteria.
Iron requirements are thought to double during pregnancy, that's why the mother produces more red blood cells to supply the growing foetus with oxygen and nourishment.
Deficiency symptoms include:
● Pale skin
● White or brittle fingernails
● Shortness of breath
● Loss of appetite
● Frequent illness.
Iron deficiency first leads to the depletion of tissue iron stores (ferritin), during which clinical symptoms are minimal. As the magnitude of iron deficiency increases, functional consequences such as impaired immune function and lowered work capacity may become evident. Severe iron deficiency is manifested by a microcytic hypochromic anaemia, which leads to listlessness/fatigue, laboured breathing, palpitations on exertion, and reduced work capacity. Iron deficiency anaemia has been associated with an impaired behaviour and cognitive development in infancy and early childhood, a decreased resistance to infection, and also an impaired temperature regulation has been identified in iron deficiency anaemia.
Iron- deficiency anemia – iron supplements could prevent and helps alleviate symptoms of this disorder.
Painful periods – research suggests that daily iron supplements may alleviate period pains.
Boosts energy levels- an increased intake of iron can reduce tiredness and fatigue associated with iron deficiency.
Concentration – studies indicate that iron supplements to the recommended daily allowance may prevent learning difficulties and improve children’s academic performance.
Other Health Benefits
May Promote Healthy Hair, Skin, and Nails health- The mineral is important for the synthesis of connective tissue. This is why having healthy iron status is important for healthy hair, skin, and nails. If you're noticing your hair or nails are brittle or your skin is dull, you may want to check in on your iron levels. Remember how iron plays a role in the production of hemoglobin and transporting oxygen through your body? When that process is not efficient enough due to low iron levels, your body's cells may not get sufficient oxygen, which could result in brittle nails, hair loss, or sallow skin.
May Support Athletic Performance- Iron may also support athletic performance. Your iron levels may factor into your aerobic capacity due to iron's role in energy production and the transport of oxygen to your body's cells. Put simply, when oxygen is not able to circulate through your body quickly enough, this can cause you to feel fatigued and weak — not helpful when you're running a race, swimming laps or hitting the gym.
Supplements and precautions of Iron
Iron is best taken as part of a multivitamin/ multimineral supplement, and the maximum dosage is around 17 mg daily, unless under medical supervision. Women are likely to benefit from iron supplements, particularly if pre-menopausal, pregnant, breastfeeding, if pregnancies are close together or women with heavy periods; Women who lose a lot of blood during their monthly periods are at higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia and may need to take iron supplements. Coffee and tea drinkers, athletes, vegetarians and vegans may need to increase their intake of iron.
Iron can only be used to make haemoglobin in the presence of copper. Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron, so drink a glass of orange juice when taking iron supplements. Iron absorption is reduced by fizzy drinks, large quantities of milk and dairy foods, tea and coffee.
Iron supplements if taken at high doses (over 20mg a day) can also cause constipation, indigestion (stomach pain) and make you sick. High doses is lethal and it is important to keep the iron tablets out of the reach of children, as only a few pills can be fatal. Consult your doctor before giving your child iron supplements.
Food sources of dietary iron:
You should be able to get all the iron you need from your daily diet by eating a varied and balance diet. Some good sources of iron include
- Liver (avoid during pregnancy)
- Red Meat
- Beans such as edamame and red kidney beans, chickpeas and pulses such as lentils
- Nuts and dried fruits
- Grains and fortified breakfast cereal
- Some fish and shellfish such as sardines
- Canned fruits
- Parsley and other dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and watercress
- Soya products such as tofu.