Iron is an essential mineral found in the human body that plays a crucial role in various physiological processes. It is a key component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body, and also participates in enzyme reactions related to energy production and metabolism. Iron is present in the body in different forms, including stored iron (ferritin) and transport iron (transferrin).
When we refer to dietary iron, we are talking about iron obtained from food sources. Dietary iron can be categorized into two main forms: heme iron and nonheme iron.
Heme iron is found predominantly in animal-based foods like red meat, poultry, and seafood. It is derived from the hemoglobin and myoglobin of animal tissues. Nonheme iron, on the other hand, is found in both plant-based and animal-based foods. Plant-based sources of nonheme iron include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables. Nonheme iron is not as easily absorbed by the body as heme iron, but certain dietary factors, such as vitamin C, can enhance its absorption. Therefore, a balanced diet that includes a variety of iron-rich foods from both animal and plant sources is important to maintain adequate iron levels in the body.
When you need to supplement know exactly what form of iron supplements to take, here a list of the forms to consider:
Ferrous Sulfate: Commonly prescribed and widely available in tablet or liquid form. It has a high iron content but may cause gastrointestinal side effects. To this point anyone with IBS or IBD may want to avoid this form or iron.
Ferrous Fumarate: Similar to ferrous sulfate but with a higher iron concentration. It may be better tolerated by some individuals.
Ferrous Gluconate: Contains a lower concentration of iron and is often used for mild iron deficiency or as a dietary supplement.
Slow-Release or Extended-Release Formulations: These types of supplements release iron slowly over time, reducing the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.
When Iron Levels are too high or too low
Iron levels in the body can be either too high or too low due to various reasons. Let's explore each scenario and the associated health problems:
High Iron Levels (Iron Overload):
When iron levels in the body are excessively high, it is known as iron overload or hemochromatosis. This can occur due to conditions such as hereditary hemochromatosis, multiple blood transfusions, or excessive iron supplementation.
Health problems associated with iron overload include:
- Organ Damage: Excess iron can accumulate in organs such as the liver, heart, and pancreas, leading to organ damage and dysfunction.
- Diabetes: Iron overload has been linked to an increased risk of developing diabetes.
- Joint Pain: Iron deposition in the joints can cause pain and stiffness.
- Fatigue: High iron levels can contribute to fatigue and weakness.
To improve iron levels in cases of iron overload, treatment involves therapeutic phlebotomy (removal of blood) to reduce iron stores. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional for proper management.
Low Iron Levels (Iron Deficiency):
Iron deficiency occurs when there is insufficient iron in the body to meet its needs. Common causes include inadequate dietary intake, poor absorption, increased iron requirements (e.g., during pregnancy or growth spurts), or chronic blood loss (e.g., from heavy menstrual periods or gastrointestinal bleeding).
Health problems associated with iron deficiency include:
-Anemia: Iron deficiency anemia is characterized by decreased red blood cell production, leading to fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, and impaired cognitive function.
- Impaired Immune Function: Low iron levels can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections.
-Impaired Growth and Development: Iron deficiency during childhood can negatively impact growth and cognitive development.
Natural Ways To improve iron levels in cases of iron deficiency, solutions include:
-Iron-Rich Diet: Consuming foods rich in iron, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, dark leafy greens, and fortified cereals.
-Iron Supplements: Healthcare professionals may prescribe iron supplements, such as ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, or ferrous gluconate, to help replenish iron stores.
It's important to follow the recommended dosage and consult a doctor before taking any supplements it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and personalized guidance regarding iron imbalances and supplements. Yes I do mean getting bloodwork done. Tests to identify iron problems may include:
~ Complete Blood Count (CBC): Measures hemoglobin, hematocrit, and red blood cell indices, which can indicate iron deficiency anemia.
~ Serum Ferritin: Measures the body's iron stores. Low levels suggest iron deficiency, while high levels can indicate iron overload.
~ Total Iron-Binding Capacity (TIBC): Assesses the body's ability to bind and transport iron. High TIBC levels can indicate iron deficiency.
In cases of suspected hereditary hemochromatosis, genetic testing can identify specific gene mutations associated with the condition.
I suggest to any of my clients if feeling low energy, fatigue, even signs of hair loss, and just unusual symptoms it may be time to really look into iron as leaving this for a long period of time may create further issues with other body systems such as;
Cardiovascular System: Iron overload increases the risk of heart disease, whereas iron deficiency can lead to irregular heartbeats and cardiovascular complications.
Reproductive System: Iron deficiency anemia can cause menstrual irregularities in women and contribute to fertility problems.
Nervous System: Iron deficiency can impair cognitive function, memory, and concentration. In severe cases, it can lead to restless leg syndrome and pica (craving non-food items).
Immune System: Iron deficiency weakens the immune response, making individuals more susceptible to infections.
So as you can tell Iron is a critical mineral with essential functions in the body, such as oxygen transport, energy production, and enzymatic reactions. Maintaining proper iron levels through a balanced diet is crucial for overall health. It is important to be aware of potential symptoms indicating possible iron imbalances, such as fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, and impaired cognitive function. Seeking medical attention and appropriate testing can help identify and address iron-related issues effectively.