Iron deficiency is common around the world. Iron can be found naturally in certain foods, but care needs to be taken when taking additional iron supplements. You will find below tips on how to prevent iron deficiency.
What is iron
Iron is an essential mineral which functions as an oxygen carrier for the body, keeping the immune system healthy and helping the body to produce energy. Iron is necessary for metabolism and is an essential part of DNA synthesis.
What are causes of iron deficiency
Many health professionals attribute the causes of iron deficiency to a lack of minimum requirements in the daily diet coupled with iron losses from menstruation, pregnancy, or blood loss.
Poor iron absorption is also a cause, especially with non-heme iron found in plants and dairy products which is not as easily absorbed by the body as heme iron which is found in red meat and liver.
Iron deficiency signs
According to Statics Canada, between 20% to 25% of the world’s population is found to be iron deficient. How do you know if you have an iron deficiency? These symptoms would be a good sign the you are iron deficient:
- Anemia with symptoms of tiredness or weakness
- Lack of concentration and memory loss
- Dizziness or headaches
- Feelings of apathy and depression
- Pica – a desire to eat clay or soil or a craving for cold items such as ice cubes
- Brittle nails
- Lowered immune system
- Mouth sores
Severe signs of iron deficiency could lead to an insufficient supply of oxygen to the heart and can affect the heart muscle.
Iron Deficiency High Risk Groups/ who is most at risk of iron deficiency?
- The elderly and the poor are at risk of iron deficiency anemia due to a poor diet or being unable to afford to buy red meat.
- Children undergoing a rapid growth spurt in adolescence.
- Women with excessive menstrual bleeding.
- Children with severe worm infestations.
- People suffering from peptic ulcers, gastritis, haemorrhoids, or gastro-intestinal malignancies.
Iron Absorption Enhancers
Vitamins A, C, and B2 enhance the absorption of non-heme iron. Vegetarians are advised to combine vitamin C rich foods such as tomatoes, raw peppers, and citrus fruit with iron-rich foods such as molasses, spinach, and other dark green leafy vegetables.
Iron Absorption Inhibitors
Certain dietary components can interfere with the absorption of non-heme iron. A well-known example is tannins found in tea which bind to iron in the digestive system, compromising the absorption of iron. Other absorption inhibitors include:
- Fried fast foods which contain high levels of oxylates (from seed oils)
- High levels of calcium
- Phytates found in wholewheat cereals
- Stimulants such as coffee and carbonated fizzy drinks
Treatments for iron deficiency
A medical professional should be consulted as a first step in treating the symptoms of iron deficiency. Simply swallowing down iron supplements can be dangerous, as too much iron in the system can cause problems such as infection, cancer, joint pain, and constipation. The underlying causes of anemia or iron deficiency need to be found and a doctor will probably recommend a full blood test.
A mild iron deficiency will probably be treated with an iron-rich diet coupled with a vitamin C tablet to aid absorption.
Foods that help with iron deficiency
Eating healthy foods is one of the best ways to get an adequate iron intake. Eat plenty of iron rich foods such as spinach, broccoli, cabbages (any variety), lettuce, egg yolk, red meat, liver, raisins, molasses, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes.
Eating these best foods rich in iron mentioned above will help with anemia and iron deficiency. If you notice any signs of iron deficiency or before taking supplements for iron deficiency, talk to your family doctor.