If you have been recognised as having an iron deficiency, the chances are that you might feel pretty bad right now. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients into our cells. It also carries waste products to be excreted. Each blood cell carries haemoglobin - a type of protein that helps carry oxygen around the body. Inside the haemoglobin is one tiny molecule of iron. It is the iron that enables the oxygen to "stick" to the haemoglobin. Low levels of iron mean that the body can`t transport oxygen around the body as well as it should be able to. This leads to insufficient amounts of oxygen in the cells.
Symptoms of iron deficiency (symptoms may vary in severity depending on your level of iron deficiency)
Fatigue/ exhaustion that is not relieved with sleep Breathlessness - especially when climbing stairs or going up - hill. Weakness Dizziness Pale skin bruising easily thinning hair cognitive issues - brain fog, short - term memory loss. Joint and muscle aches and pains
What causes Iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency is a symptom of something else going on. It is important to find the underlying cause. Reasons for low iron levels include:
Blood loss - heavy periods, surgery, trauma Insufficient iron intake - especially in vegan/ vegetarian diets Poor digestion of nutrients - Coeliac disease, candida or dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance in the gut), H-pylori, Crohn`s disease, ulcerative colitis Low stomach acid Excessive turmeric supplementation Endurance sports Pregnancy / lactation internal bleeding Cancer
Iron deficiency diet
The recommended dietary intake of iron in the UK is: Females - (pre - menopausal) 14.8mg/day Females- (post-menopausal) 8.7mg/day Males - 8.8 mg/day.
On average, around 10mg of iron is consumed each day BUT only between 2% and 35% may be absorbed. The absorption rate is even lower for vegetarian sources of iron (non-haem iron).
Haem and non- haem iron
Iron comes in two forms in the diet; haem iron (animal based) and non-haem iron (vegetarian based). Haem iron is easier to be absorbed as non-haem iron is found in plant - based foods that also contain phytates. These phytates can block the absorption of iron. This can be improved by adding vitamin C-rich foods to your diet - eg lemon juice on a green salad.
Certain foods inhibit the absorption of iron and should be removed:
Remove Dairy Tea Coffee If you can`t remove tea and coffee, aim to reduce them and NEVER drink them within half an hour either side of a meal.
Certain iron rich foods should be eaten regularly :
Include Chicken livers - 150g provides 17.4mg iron Red lentils - 1 cup provides 14.3 mg iron Beef mince - 200g provides 3.8mg iron Black strap molasses - 1 tbsp provides 2.8mg iron Raw spinach - 100g provides 2.7mg iron Salmon fillets - 150g provides 1.5 mg iron Cumin - 1 teaspoon provides 1.3 mg iron Dried figs - 5 figs provides 1mg iron Dried apricots - 10 apricots provides 1mg iron
Idea A great idea to help maximise iron absorption is to buy a cooking utensil called an iron fish. It is a fish shaped object, made of iron! You simply add the fish to your stew or whatever you are cooking and iron will leach into your food from the iron fish. You can also get other shaped utensils. These are available on amazon and elsewhere online.
Outlook The outlook for regaining iron status is good. If you have been identified as iron deficient, you should always be re-tested for your iron levels 2 - 3 months after supplementing and changing your diet. This is something that not all GP surgeries will remind you to do so be your own advocate and call your doctors to organise a re-test.
If the underlying cause of your iron deficiency has been identified and supported then hopefully you will avoid becoming deficient in iron again. If the underlying cause is not addressed properly, your iron deficiency is likely to return, so make those positive changes that have been suggested to you in your protocol.
Thrive Clinical Nutrition and Naturopathic Health Eve Morley BA hons. NT. FNTP. AMNNA. Soc Nat
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