Iron is a very important dietary mineral. That’s because iron deficiency is a common problem across the world, especially in women. Iron deficiency leads to a condition called anemia.
Women lose more iron than men and that is why we are prone to being iron deficient. A balanced diet is usually enough to meet the needs of iron intake, but there are some scenarios when you need to pay extra attention to your iron levels.
I’m sure this is not the first time you looked up iron deficiency symptoms. And you always get the same answers: fatigue, pale skin, weakness, etc. So really, you know the symptoms but they’re..well, nothing too obvious.
Today, we’ll assume you know the symptoms, in fact you googled iron deficiency symptoms because you’ve noticed them, but can’t see the big picture. Am I really iron deficient or just sick and tired of everything?
So today, we’ll explain the big picture. Why are symptoms of iron deficiency so quiet and unnoticeable?
It’s very straightforward. It’s because iron works for two very quiet, unnoticeable tasks in our body we never think about.
Why Do We Need Iron and What it Does
Iron in our body has two very important yet under-our-radar purposes.
First, iron is vital for transporting oxygen.
As you have learned in school, oxygen is essential for life. Let’s hugely simplify this; we breath-in air. In air, there’s oxygen. The oxygen enters the bloodstream and moves with blood (red blood cells) to every part of our body.
You know how blood tastes a bit like metal? That’s because of iron.
Iron is in our blood. Let’s dig deeper in this.
In the red blood cells, there’s a protein called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin has a special molecule called heme. And the very core of the heme molecule is of iron. So iron has a little place for himself in you blood, in every single red blood cell.
This iron is responsible for binding with oxygen and carrying in all around our body. This is how your brain gets air to work, your gut to digest, your fingers to wiggle and your entire body to breathe.
Our body breathes with iron.
The second role of iron is in the production of energy.
When fats and carbohydrates are broken down to carbon dioxide and water, we get energy from it. For this breakdown, body uses special enzymes**. Several of these enzymes need iron to function.
Without iron, our cells wouldn’t have had enough energy to do their work, due to a lack of energy.
In short, iron is important so that our body can breathe and eat. Now, it’s not only iron’s task to do these. As you know, our body is super intertwined and collaborative..it’s like dominoes – push one too hard and all of them can fall.
**Enzymes are little helpers in our body. And, yes, they are important. They’re like elves to Santa Claus: elf prepare presents for Christmas, pack sleds and know all nooks and tricks for making perfect Christmas.
Without elves, Christmas would be pretty shitty.
And without enzymes (helping elves), your body (merry Santa) can’t digest food properly. You have diarrhea, or gas or stomach ache, etc.
What Happens When We Don’t Have Enough Iron – Iron Deficiency
Women that suffer from iron-deficiency anemia often complain of fatigue, weakness and low physical endurance, none of them is very obvious and noticeable.
That’s because symptoms are directly related to the low oxygen concentration in the blood and body. You lack oxygen and energy. Lack of oxygen and energy can also translates to “just being tired”.
So if you”feel tired” a lot, call your doctor and get a quick blood check done.
Symptoms of iron deficiency are often described as “being tired”.
Iron deficiency can also lead to reduced cognitive performance and weak immune system; if you can’t concentrate or have a good session of productive thinking or studying you may want to check your iron levels.
The same goes if you often catch a cold or your scratches and cuts don’t heal well or get infected.
Because of these silent symptoms, iron deficiency has a huge impact on quality of life and work productivity in many countries, especially in women – we’re more prone to iron deficiency because of our periods.
So remember, being tired all the time can mean you’re low on iron. Loss of focus, often colds and infections are signs of iron deficiency as well.
Why Are We Iron Deficient and Who’s at Risk
It’s difficult to tell how much iron you actually absorb from food.
That’s because your iron absorption is determined by how much iron you already have in your body. If you have low iron status you will absorb more iron from a particular food compared to someone with a high iron status.
But what we do know is that iron deficiency happens because your diet lack bioavailable iron – iron that body can absorb and use.
There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme.
Heme iron comes from animal products and is a better source of iron then non-heme.
Non-heme iron comes from plants.
This is why vegan and vegetarians as are at risk of being deficient in iron.
Iron deficiency, is lack of oxygen and energy
for you and your body – mentally and physically.
But meat-eaters can be iron deficient as well.
Increased risk of iron deficiency include women of childbearing age. With period, we lose blood every month, that’s why we need to pay attention to iron levels.
The iron requirements are highest for pregnant women. This is because of moms-to-be rapidly expanding blood volume and the iron needed to support the growth of the baby.
Pregnant women that are also vegan are highly recommended taking iron supplements.
Athletes may also need extra iron because they have greater muscle mass and blood volume, and because iron is lost through sweat.
Vegan athletes should make sure they eat plenty of iron-rich foods, as well as vitamin C to boost iron absorption.
Female athletes and female vegetarians both have lower iron stores than the general population. So, vegan women athletes should take care to include plenty of iron-rich foods in their diets. Unless true iron deficiency is a problem, it probably isn’t a good idea to take supplements.
How To Tackle Iron Deficiency
Have you ever heard of DRIs? Daily Recommended Intake?
DRIs are intended to assess and plan the diets of healthy people.
For example, if your average daily intake of iron is only 25% of the recommended dietary allowance, there’s a very good chance that you are iron-deficient and will have anemia.
If you usually have iron-rich diet and haven’t eaten it in a week or so, worry not.
Our body is very efficient at re-using iron. We lose only a small amount of iron (1-2 mg) on a daily basis and these 2 mg needs to be replenished via the diet.
Women of child-bearing age lose more iron than men. Because of periods and associated blood loss.
Accordingly, the recommended daily allowance for iron for adult women is 18 mg per day, whereas it is only 8 mg for adult men.
Please note that we need to eat a lot more iron than we lose from the body because of the low iron absorption.
Your best bet is to eat plenty of iron-rich foods. Make it a habit to eat good foods such as beans, whole grains, and dried fruit. If you are iron deficient, it’s very likely that your doctor will prescribe you iron supplements. They are the norm for all pregnant women.
What To Remember
Women are prone to iron deficiency because we menstruate.
Pregnant women need the most iron to have a healthy development of a baby.
Since the best source of bioavaliable iron is meat, vegans and vegetarians should pay extra attention to their iron.
Also, to get the best out of your iron, take it with vitamin C. Vitamin C boosts iron absorption.
If you feel tired a lot lately, your cuts don’t heal, you’re cold, lightheaded, etc. stop your iron deficiency research – you already know everything you need to know. Iron deficiency, is lack of oxygen and energy for you and your body – mentally and physically.
The best way to tell if you are iron deficient, and how much is to have a blood check. If it turns our you lack iron your doctor will prescribe you supplements. But what you can do for you own sake is to eat lots of iron-rich foods.
I hope you found the information that is useful to you. If you have any questions, want to share your experience or just chat on this topic, write a comment below. I’d love to hear your point of view!
Till next time,