Preventative Health Series – The Importance of Iron

Updated: Apr 5


Preventative Health Series Part. III

I have saved the best for last!  The third and final article in my health series is about the importance of iron. I believe there is no other nutrient that has as dramatic an effect on energy levels as iron.  My obsession with iron first began when after my second child, when I suffered from severe fatigue, insomnia and anxiety.  It wasn’t until my alarming hair loss kicked in that I finally decided to check and see if there was more going on than just postpartum exhaustion.  Sure enough my iron stores had bottomed out and my body was struggling. It then became my mission to be sure that I properly assessed my patient’s iron levels and taught them the importance of supplementing iron if needed. .

Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies which helps us perform many functions throughout our body.  One of iron’s most important functions is to help transport oxygen throughout the body via hemoglobin – the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to tissues.  A deficiency of iron results in the disruption of normal cell and organ function.

It is the most common known form of nutritional deficiency and when your iron levels are low enough you can have a condition called anemia which results in a lack of healthy red blood cells being produced.

Signs

The signs of iron deficiency can appear gradually over time. Without iron your body struggles to transport oxygen to your brain, tissues, and muscles and the cells in your muscles, called myoglobin, cannot hold oxygen. Without oxygen, these cells are not able to function properly, resulting in muscle weakness, and poor exercise recovery. Twenty percent of all of the oxygen in the body is used by the brain. Therefore, an iron deficiency can impair memory or other mental functions.  Children with iron deficiency tend to become irritable, restless and are unable to pay attention in class and can have an impairment of physical growth and immune function. These symptoms typically disappear once iron levels are restored.  Also, neurotransmitter functions that support a positive mood rely on adequate levels of iron within the blood. Your hormones such as dopamine and serotonin cannot be properly synthesized with inadequate levels of iron.  This can have a dramatic effect on mood, cravings and motivation. In my practice I can also often see weight gain.  This usually occurs due to the accompanying fatigue which results in less motivation for exercise and healthy meal preparation. The low iron levels can also cause an increase in cortisol production due to the stress placed on the body to perform without adequate iron levels. Studies show that low iron levels are associated with thyroid dysfunction.  This can also contribute to the symptoms of fatigue and weight gain.

Here are some common signs of an iron deficiency:

  1. Fatigue – lack of motivation.

  2. Muscle weakness and poor exercise recovery.

  3. Cognitive dysfunction – foggy headed

  4. Shortness of breath

  5. Weakened immune system – frequent cold and flu

  6. Cold hands and feet

  7. Hair loss

  8. Restless legs, insomnia

  9. Fast or an irregular heartbeat

  10. Dizziness

  11. Headaches

  12. Brittle nails

  13. Mood changes – anxiety and depression

  14. Thyroid dysfunction

Causes

  1. Blood loss – women with heavy menstrual bleeding, uterine fibroids, people who donate blood regularly

  2. Eating a diet low in iron – vegans, vegetarians who don’t replace meat with another iron-rich food

  3. Inability to absorb adequate iron from food.

This can be for a few reasons:

  1. Inadequate hydrochloric acid production in the stomach where iron is absorbed or regular use of antacids,

  2. Food sensitivities or allergies such as celiac disease, or

  3. Inflammatory bowel disease.

  4. Intense exercise- can damage red blood cells.

  5. Pregnancy – Pregnant women should consume more iron-rich foods than anyone else since not only do they require iron, but they also need to meet the needs of the fetus and placenta. According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency during a pregnancy can increase the risk of maternal and infant mortality, premature birth, and low birth weight.

  6. Infants and children – especially those who were born prematurely or in children during a growth spurt.

RDA’s

Your naturopathic or medical doctor can check your serum (blood)  for iron levels (hemoglobin) as well as your iron stores (ferritin).Gender/Age Iron RDA Children 1-37 mgChildren 4-810 mgChildren 9-138 mgMales/14-1811 mgFemales/14-1815 mgMales/19+8 mgFemales/19-5018 mgFemales/51+8 mgPregnant women28 mg

Depending on what stage of life you are in and whether you are male or female your needs can vary greatly.  Menstruating women, toddlers and young children seem to have the greatest needs.

Sources

It is best to obtain your iron from your diet.  There are two types of iron available in our food. Iron from meat, poultry and fish − heme iron − is absorbed two to three times more efficiently than iron from plants – non-heme iron is absorbed.

When you eat different foods together, they can interact to either boost the body’s ability to absorb iron, or they can do the opposite and make it harder to absorb the iron present in the foods. Foods like meat or fish that contain the animal source of iron (heme-iron) enhance the body’s ability to absorb the type of iron present in plant foods (non-heme iron).  Vitamin C has been shown to increase the absorption of iron.  Foods which impede absorption of iron include: – tea, coffee, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products.  Minerals such as calcium and magnesium will also interfere with iron absorption. The best iron-rich foods include spirulina, liver, grass-fed beef, lentils, dark chocolate, spinach, sardines, black and white beans, pistachios and raisins.

You should only supplement with iron if you’re deficient, and you should do so under the supervision of a health professional. If you suspect that you may have an iron deficiency see your naturopathic or medical doctor to assess your iron levels.  It can mean a world of difference to your health and quality of life.

The end!

What’s Next?

Learn more about Dr. Marika Berni and book a complimentary 15 minute consultation to see how she can help you get your iron levels up!

Book an appointment online. Contact us: 416.214.9251, admin@drdarou.com www.darouwellness.com

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16500878

  2. https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(05)04745-6/fulltext

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