What is Iron?

Iron is an essential nutrient that our bodies need to function properly. This mineral supports energy and focus, proper growth and development, and the production of brain neurotransmitters, and plays a role in immune system support. Iron is an important component of myoglobin, which supplies oxygen to our muscles, and hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells and transports oxygen from our lungs to the rest of the body. [1,2]

Are You Iron Deficient?

Since iron is a part of so many functions, its intake, transport, storage, and use need to be in balance at all times. [2]  Having insufficient iron can lead to anemia, while having too much iron can lead to hemochromatosis. To determine the status of your iron levels, it is best to speak to your physician so you can receive a proper assessment and diagnosis since each condition is treated differently.

Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency worldwide. It has a high probability of occurring in children, adolescents, and women of reproductive age, either due to menstruation or pregnancy. [2,3] Those who have gastrointestinal conditions such as Celiac disease, anyone that eats a vegetarian and vegan diet, those with blood loss, athletes, and the elderly may also be at risk for deficiency of this important nutrient.

A deficiency of iron can lead to a variety of signs and symptoms such fatigue, decreased immune function and increased chance of infection, dizziness, restless legs, hair loss, brittle nails, weakness, and more. Sufficient iron levels are also needed for a healthy nervous system. In addition, iron deficiency has been shown to lead to slow cognitive and social development during childhood and cognitive impairment in adults.[4]

How Much Iron Do You Need?

The recommended daily amount of iron for men and women is as follows:

  • Males (19–50 years): 8 mg daily
  • Females (19–50 years): 18 mg daily
  • Adults (51 years and older): 8 mg daily
  • Pregnant women (all ages): 27 mg daily
  • Breastfeeding women (19 years and older): 9 mg daily

How Can You Improve Your Iron Levels?

You can maintain or improve your iron levels by making changes in your diet and by taking supplements where needed. Here are some tips to follow to support your iron levels:

  1. Choose foods that contain heme iron such as meat, poultry, and fish. You can also include non-heme iron sources found in cereals, dried beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables.
  2. Take a supplement that contains iron, such as a multivitamin or iron-only supplement. Specific iron preparations are better absorbed than others. For example, ferrous bisglycinate formulations are better absorbed and tolerated compared to other products. [5]
  3. Eat foods such as bell peppers, strawberries, carrots, spinach, oranges, and others that provide nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta carotene, which help improve iron absorption.
  4. Be aware of foods and/or supplements that inhibit iron absorption, such as foods high in oxalates (tea, beets), polyphenols (coffee, black tea), phytates (nuts, beans), calcium, and zinc. Consume these a few hours away from iron supplements and heme-iron sources.
  5. Always work with your health care provider to ensure you are taking the right steps to support your health.

References:

    1. Ware M. Everything you need to know about iron. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/287228.php [Accessed 16th January 2019].
    2. Abbaspour N, Hurrell R, Kelishadi R. Review on iron and its importance for human health. J Res Med Sci. 2014 Feb; 19(2):164-174.
    3. Percy L, Mansour D, Fraser I. Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia in women. Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2017 Apr; 40:55-67.
    4. Jahanshad N, Kohannim O, Hibar DP, et al. Brain structure in healthy adults is related to serum transferrin and the H63D polymorphism in the HFE gene. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Apr 3; 109(14):E851-E859.
    5. Layrisse M, García-Casal MN, Solano L, et al. Iron bioavailability in humans from breakfasts enriched with iron bis-glycine chelate, phytates, and polyphenols. J Nutr. 2000 Sep; 130(9): 2195-2199.
    6. Ferrari P, Nicolini A, Manca ML, et al. Treatment of mild non-chemotherapy-induced iron deficiency anemia in cancer patients: comparison between oral ferrous bisglycinate chelate and ferrous sulfate. Biomed Pharmacother. 2012 Sep; 66(6):414-418.