How to Treat and Prevent Iron Deficiency
Did you know that approximately 30% of the world’s population is iron deficient? Iron is an essential nutrient that is required for many processes in the human body. These processes include red blood cell formation and oxygen uptake. Long-term iron deficiency can cause symptoms of fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. These symptoms are often mistakenly blamed on poor sleep or stress. However, ignoring iron deficiency can have long-term consequences to your health and should be treated quickly. In this article, we would like to shed light on a common condition by explaining what iron deficiency is and what you can do about it.
What is iron deficiency?
Iron is a trace element that is essential for many vital processes in the human body. These include:
- Supporting the immune system
- Making red blood cells that transport oxygen through the body
- Promoting general energy and concentration
- Ensuring healthy hair and nail growth
In order for these processes to run smoothly, a certain amount of iron is required by the body. Iron deficiency occurs when your body does not have sufficient iron. As a consequence, body processes that rely on iron/hemoglobin cannot be performed properly. Iron deficiency can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe.
Mild iron deficiency
Mild iron deficiency is defined as when the body does not have enough iron, but it does not yet cause any health issues or noticeable symptoms. During mild iron deficiency, normal quantities of red blood cells can still be formed.
Moderate iron deficiency
Moderate iron deficiency occurs when iron stores become so low that red blood cells can no longer be formed in adequate quantities. Moderate iron deficiency can cause mild anemia as well as physical symptoms.
Severe iron deficiency
Severe iron deficiency can have serious health consequences. Due to a lack of iron, only a small amount of hemoglobin is produced in the body and significant anemia occurs. Individuals with severe iron deficiency may experience significant symptoms and difficulties performing daily tasks. However, these symptoms can be easily attributed to other diseases, highlighting the need to test for iron deficiency. Interested in knowing even more about iron deficiency? In addition to a hemoglobin self-test, Homed-IQ also offers a home Anemia Blood Test that provides insight into iron, hemoglobin, and ferritin levels.
How much iron do you need a day?
Daily dietary iron requirements are individual and depend on various factors. In general, women have higher iron requirements than men. While iron is processed by the body, it is also eventually excreted. This means that regular intake of iron through diet is important. It is also important to know that the body only releases a fraction of the iron consumed through the intestinal wall into the blood. Therefore, there is a big difference between the daily iron requirement and the daily recommended iron intake. As already mentioned, daily iron requirements are very individual. However, a general guide to the minimum amounts of iron you should consume daily are as follows:
|1 – 7 Years||8 mg||8 mg|
|7 – 10 Years||10 mg||10 mg|
|10 – 19 Years||12 mg||15 mg|
|19 – 50 Years||10 mg||15mg|
|50+ Years||10 mg||10 mg|
How do you recognize iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency develops gradually and does not happen overnight. During initial iron deficiency, the body draws on stored reserves, also known as storage iron, before symptoms become noticeable. If the stored reserves are exhausted, the body finally has no more iron to fall back on, and production of red blood cells is impacted. The change in blood count ultimately causes the recognizable symptoms of iron deficiency and leads to a low hemoglobin level.
Typical symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- Hair loss
- Dizziness, tiredness, and headaches
- Brittle and cracked nails
- Muscular dystrophy
- Loss of appetite
- Cracked corners of the mouth
- Pale and dry skin
How does iron deficiency occur?
The cause of iron deficiency can be classified into three factors – increased iron requirements, increased iron loss, and dietary iron deficiencies. Below you will find more information on the factors mentioned.
Iron deficiency due to increased iron requirements
Sometimes iron deficiency can occur despite consuming what seems to be enough iron for your gender and age group. The reason for this is usually an increased iron requirement. People with an increased need for iron can include:
- Competitive athletes
- Pregnant women
- Growing children
- Women during menstruation
- People with certain chronic diseases
Iron deficiency due to increased iron loss
Iron deficiency can also be caused by increased iron loss. Causes of increased iron loss includ:
- Donating blood
- Hypermenorrhea (particularly heavy menstrual bleeding)
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
Iron deficiency due to diet
Iron deficiency can also result from a lack of iron in one’s diet. This is not exclusively related to a certain diet, but can be more common in individuals that do not consume meat and animal products. Iron deficiency due to diet is most common in the following groups:
- People with food intolerances (i.e. lactose intolerance)
- People with eating disorders
- People who follow a plant based diet (i.e. vegan or vegetarian)
What can I do if I have an iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency can usually be treated relatively easily and quickly. If you discover that you have an iron deficiency, you should make sure that you consume enough iron from now on. In addition to iron supplements from the pharmacy, you should also make efforts to consume an iron-rich diet.
Which foods contain iron?
A particularly well-known source of iron is meat. In addition to containing a large amount of iron, meat also contains red blood pigment (hemoglobin). Furthermore, the human body can absorb iron from meat particularly well, in contrast to iron from plants. Therefore, vegetarians and vegans are recommended to set their iron intake twice as high as those who consume meat.
In addition to meat, there are many other foods that have a high iron content. These include, among others:
- Dark leafy greens such as Swiss chard, spinach, and kale
- Oats, millet
- Whole grain rice and pasta
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