Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Iron is one of the most important minerals in the body and iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies, yet it is often one of the easiest to remedy. It is estimated that 30% of the population are clinically deficient in this mineral. Iron is a nutrient needed for many functions of the body and whilst the human body can store iron, it cannot make it. The only way to obtain iron is from food.
Why is iron so important to health?
Stored in bone marrow and the liver, this essential mineral is a vital component of haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body from the lungs to tissues and carbon dioxide back in the other direction. Iron is also important for maintaining a healthy immune system as well as having a role in the production of energy, DNA synthesis and muscle function.
Who is most affected?
Menstruating females, those with heavy periods, vegans, vegetarians, post-surgery, pregnant women, those breastfeeding, after childbirth, adolescent girls, older adults and those who exercise a lot.
What can a deficiency in iron lead to?
Low levels of iron may lead to Iron Deficiency Anaemia- so it is important to get your levels checked out with your G.P in the first instance if you are in anyway concerned or unsure. Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type of anaemia. There are other types, like vitamin B12 and folate anaemia that your G,P may also check for.
What are the main symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anaemia?
Iron Deficiency Anaemia is caused by a lack of iron. Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anaemia include:
Shortness of breath
Cold hands and feet
What can be done to Increase Iron Absorption?
Ensure that your gut health is in tip-top condition – to be able to absorb vital nutrients from your food efficiently and effectively.
Get your levels checked if you are unsure with your G.P (as mentioned above)
Haem iron from animal products is more easily absorbed than the iron found in plants (non haem iron) so if you don’t eat meat eat plenty of foods containing vitamin c as this helps the body to absorb iron from food
Good quality supplementation- but only after checking your levels with your GP or qualified nutritionist/ dietician as too much iron can be detrimental to health
In relation to fertility
Some research studies suggest a link between fertility and iron levels in the body. It has been found that iron supplementation in those who required it can lower the risk of ovulatory infertility (again know your levels before any supplementation). Appropriate iron supplementation has also been linked to decreased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and preterm labour. Inadequate iron levels among women can lead to anovulation or the inability to release the egg.
Animal-based sources of iron (containing haem iron)
Red meats (beef, lamb, pork). The redder the meat, the higher it is in iron.
Offal (liver, kidney, pate)
Fish or shellfish (salmon, sardines, tuna)
Plant-based sources of iron (containing non-heam iron)
Iron-fortified bread and breakfast cereal
Legumes (mixed beans, baked beans, lentils, chickpeas)
Dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, watercress, kale, broccoli)
Certain Fruit and vegetables eg Beetroot, tomatoes, asparagus, raspberries, mushrooms
Want to read more?
Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Iron intake and risk of ovulatory infertility. Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Nov;108(5):1145-52.