Iron is a crucial mineral that promotes a wide variety of functions within the body, but its deficiency can often be misdiagnosed.
Optimal levels depend on your age and gender; however, medical knowledge focuses more on some specific demographics’ susceptibility to deficiency. Doctors are keenly aware that women of reproductive age lose iron as a result of their menstrual cycle, and even more so if they are pregnant or breastfeeding – but what about the rest of us?
Iron requirements decrease as a result of the menopause, but a base level is still needed – you’re never too old to be deficient. And, because many of the symptoms of iron deficiency match those of the menopause, doctors can often mislabel symptoms. So, if you’re feeling listless, here’s how to make sure that your iron levels are in balance, to promote top health and rediscover your spark.
What role does iron perform within the body?
We generally have 3 – 4g of iron in our body at any given time, with a large portion stored as haemoglobin and the remainder spread between the liver, spleen, your bone marrow and muscle tissue.
Iron is a wonder-nutrient, helping us to perform a whole host of daily functions. Most crucially, it helps generate the red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body, and it also plays an important role in metabolising proteins.
Why do we get deficient?
A low level of iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the US, with over 10% of women falling below recommended levels.
Women are the more likely sufferers of iron deficiency as they lose the mineral as part of the reproductive cycle – but anyone can be affected, through excessive blood loss, poor diet, or conditions that prevent iron absorption.
Research shows that the following groups are especially at risk of an iron deficiency:
|Pregnant or breastfeeding women||People who have lost or given blood|
|People undergoing dialysis||Sufferers of GTI disorders, such as Crohn’s|
|Regular takers of antacids||People with ulcers|
What are the warning signs?
The number one symptom of an iron deficiency is anaemia, which means that your body isn’t creating enough red blood cells to carry oxygen round the body.
If you can’t carry enough oxygen, your brain and muscles will be denied the nutrients that they need, and you’ll start to feel weak and lethargic. Iron promotes general wellbeing and helps to boost energy levels, and is also involved in the enzymatic functions that control your metabolism and help you digest foods properly. Optimising your levels will improve brain and heart health, boost energy levels, and make your skin, hair, nails and waistline look better.
Many signs of an iron deficiency match up to the symptoms of a hormone deficiency. Here are the main warning signs to look out for:
|Anaemia or increased blood sugar||Changes to appetite or weight|
|Chronic fatigue||Decreased immune function|
|Pale or yellowing of the skin||Cough|
|Shortness of breath||Low concentration or memory|
|Abnormal heartbeats or increased body tension||Sores on your mouth or tongue|
|Muscle weakness or restless leg syndrome||Mood changes|
How to use supplements to naturally restore your iron levels
Fortunately, iron deficiency can be identified by a simple blood test and treated easily with the right diet and supplements.
In terms of diet, look out for whole-foods with high iron levels, such as
- organic/grass-fed meat,
- dairy products,
- veg (dark greens particularly)
- whole grains.
And, iron is more easily absorbed when eaten with certain other foods, so, for example, try pairing foods rich in vitamin C (leafy salads and citrus fruits) with pulses for a better iron hit. Other substances that increase iron absorption are: cysteine, folic acid, Vitamin b6, and zinc.
Here’s some iron-rich foods to consider on your next shop:
Iron supplements are also a great fix for deficiency, especially if you’re in one of the ‘at risk’ groups. However, side-effects of an iron overload (more than 45mg per day) include nausea and constipation, and intake can be altered by calcium supplements or medication for conditions such as Parkinson’s or cancer. All in all, it’s best to speak to an expert in restorative medicine to make sure your levels stay perfectly balanced.
Could an iron boost be the key to rediscovering your natural vivacity? Follow our simple suggestions and find out.