Is iron essential to your overall health? You bet it is. If you don’t get enough in your diet, you might be looking at some serious problems. Here’s some information on why iron is so essential, and what could happen if you have a deficiency.
Why Is Iron Essential In Your Diet?
Iron is one of the main components of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the main reason you get the oxygen you need throughout your body. Found in red blood cells, hemoglobin helps the blood transport oxygen that helps to keep you alive. If you don’t have enough iron, that means you won’t have enough hemoglobin.1
But this essential mineral also plays other roles in the body as well. For example, you need iron in order for your immune system to work as it should. Iron is also a component of proteins you need in order to metabolize energy – and also to breathe.2
Men typically have enough iron stored in their bodies to last three years. Women, though, may only have enough to last about six months.3
What Happens When A Person Has An Iron Deficiency?
A lack of iron leads to a condition known as anemia. One of the signs of anemia is fatigue. Because your tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen from your blood, they don’t have enough energy (people with anemia are sometimes said to have “tired blood”). If you have a hard time focusing, you’re cranky, and you feel tired all of the time, see your doctor and get your iron levels checked.4
Paleness is another sign of anemia. Hemoglobin is the main reason blood is red. This contributes to a healthy-looking complexion. If you don’t have enough iron – and as a result, your cells don’t get enough hemoglobin – that can rob your skin of its normal coloring. Your gums and lips may be pale as well.5
There are other signs your body will give you that you need more iron in your blood cells. For example, your tongue might be swollen or sore. Your heart may beat faster than normal. In some cases, people with an iron deficiency have an urge to eat strange things – even dirt.6
What Are Some Of The Risk Factors Associated With An Iron Deficiency?
Some people are at a higher risk of iron deficiency than others. Most of the risk factors have to do with losing a significant amount of blood. Pregnant women or women who recently gave birth have a higher risk. The same is true for women who lose a lot of blood during heavy menstruation.7
If you have a gastrointestinal issue, or you’ve recently had gastric bypass surgery, you might also face an increased risk of anemia. Blood transfusions are sometimes necessary in severe cases of iron deficiency.8
Iron Absorption: How To Get More Iron Into Your Diet
There are a lot of foods that are high in iron content. These include vegetables like asparagus and broccoli, legumes such as lima beans, almonds, oats, and brown rice.9
Eating animal-based foods is actually the best way for your body to absorb iron. In order to increase iron absorption from plant-based foods, you should either eat them with meat or with foods high in vitamin C. These include bell peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries, and more. A balanced diet will be the best way to ensure proper iron absorption.10
The amount of dietary iron you need each day depends on your gender and age. Children ages 1-3, for example, need about 7 milligrams (mg). Males aged 19 and up need 8 mg, while women between the ages of 19-50 need 18 mg a day. Women aged 51 and up need 8 mg.11
The reason women aged 19-50 require so much more iron is to make up for the iron in blood they lose through menstruation.12
Iron Intake And Your Health: Should You Be Taking An Iron Supplement Daily?
In some cases, people may need a little extra boost when it comes to their iron intake. This is where iron supplements come in. Iron supplements, just like vitamin supplements, come in many forms. You can take pills or capsules, or you can take tablets that dissolve in water. Iron supplements may not only increase your iron intake but your hemoglobin supply as well.
Your doctor can tell you whether or not an iron supplement is right for you. People who have been diagnosed with an iron deficiency, usually take supplements containing 100-200 mg of iron each day.13
There are some instances where people who take supplements will need to watch their intake of other minerals. Calcium, for example, can interfere with iron absorption. In order to increase iron absorption, experts recommend taking a supplement with a source of vitamin C.14
Think You May Be Suffering From Iron Deficiency? See Your Doctor As Soon As Possible
As you can see, iron deficiency can be a major problem. So if you have any reason to believe you might be suffering from anemia, you should speak with your doctor as soon as possible. Get medical help if you have issues concentrating, you’re dizzy or have headaches, or if you feel more tired than normal.
Some people are tempted to simply take iron supplements since they can buy them without a prescription. This might not be the best decision.
You should not take iron supplements without talking to your doctor first. Doing so could actually result in an iron overload, which could also be an issue. There could be some sort of underlying medical reason for your anemia that needs to be addressed.15
Hopefully, you have a new appreciation for just how important it is to have enough iron. If you think you don’t, talk to a doctor and determine the steps you need to take.