Iron is an essential mineral and it has several important roles in the body. For instance, it helps to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. It is needed to make hemoglobin which is part of red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body. Iron is also an important part of many enzymes in our body and it is required in many cell functions.
If you are not getting enough iron, your body will be unable to get enough oxygen and you will develop anemia over time. In fact, iron deficiency is the most common deficiency and the major cause of anemia in the U.S. Anemia occurs due to lack of two key nutrients: folic acid and/or iron.
Below, you are going to read about the symptoms of anemia as well as how to increase iron levels in your blood. This article also provides a couple of tips on how to boost iron bioavailability and which supplements are better for you.
Causes of Iron Deficiency
- Not getting enough iron from food ( people who don’t eat meat are at higher risk of iron deficiency)
- Heavy bleeding, such as bleeding inside the body in case of colorectal cancer or peptic ulcer, and heavy periods
- Chronic kidney disease
- Pregnancy ( iron serves not only for the mother`s increased blood volume but the growing fetus as well)
- Inability to absorb iron as result of having the small intestine removed or suffering from celiac disease
Symptoms of Anemia
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Delay normal growth and development in children
- Higher risk of infections
- Premature births and low birth weight babies
- Brittle nails
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat which can lead to heart problems
- Lack of concentration
Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of Iron
Girls aged 14-18: 15 mg of iron daily
Breastfeeding women: 9 mg daily
Pregnant women: 27 mg daily
Women of reproductive age: 18 mg daily
Men: 8 mg daily
Sources of Iron
Animal sources: egg yolks, seafood, internal parts (heart and liver), poultry, red meat;
Vegetable sources: legumes, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, tahini;
How to Improve Iron Absorption?
To boost the bioavailability (absorption) of iron from vegetable sources you need to consume it along with vitamin C. For instance, you can eat lentil soup with red pepper and chopped parsley, both of which are abundant in vitamin C. As a snack, you can eat almonds and walnuts.
Plant foods differ a lot from animal foods when it comes to their iron content. In a plant food, the iron is classified as non-heme iron and it is not attached to heme proteins, while iron in animal foods is attached to proteins, and referred to as heme iron. The absorption of the rate of heme iron is much higher than non-heme iron.
In case you are suffering from anemia caused by iron deficiency, you should start taking iron supplements instead of relying on nutrition only. However, you should consult your doctor prior taking dietary supplements, just like with other medications.
Iron supplements are available in several forms: syrup, capsule, and intravenous infusion ( in a case of lack of absorption typical for cancer and intestinal diseases).
Which Supplement is Better?
You should opt for a supplement which comes with minimal side effects and enables you to achieve maximum iron absorption. Possible side effects of iron supplements include diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, and changes in stool color.
You should take a supplement which is easier for the digestive system and supplement whose iron absorption is coordinated with the body, meaning that it doesn’t act like free radicals that damage DNA.
What Can Interfere with Iron Absorption?
- Chocolate, coffee, tea ( due to the high content of polyphenols)
- Oxalic acid found in many green vegetables ( it may delay the absorption)
- Phytic acid ( found in whole grains)
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