Iron is one of the most essential minerals in the body that aids functions such as growth, cell development, haemoglobin production - the red blood cell protein to carry oxygen from the lungs to all other parts of the body and hormonal well being.
Iron is a crucial element for blood production, a fall in which can be directly correlated with insufficient blood and known as iron deficiency anemia. This condition happens when the level of iron stores in the body known as Ferritin, goes down beyond a permissible limit. An average adult male has about 1,000 mg of stored iron (enough for about three years), whereas an average adult female has only about 300 mg (enough for about six months). Whenever your daily iron intake drops, the body uses up the stores which can become depleted, resulting in decreased hemoglobin levels.
When iron stores reach a dangerously low level, the condition is called iron depletion which may cause iron deficiency anemia.
Factors that are the main causes of iron deficiency anemia are:
- Low dietary intake
- Following a strict vegan diet
- Loss of blood due to injury and menstruation in women
- Certain digestive system disorders that hinder with iron absorption
Common Iron deficiency Anemia symptoms include-
- Sore muscles
- Inability to walk and balance
- Weakness and pale skin
- Blurred vision
How to combat Iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency is a treatable condition with the following effective measures:
Taking iron rich diet
Iron-rich foods include meat and poultry, fish, including shellfish and sardines, Plant-based foods that are high in iron in the non-heme form including pulses, including chickpeas, beans, peas, and lentils, seeds, including sesame and pumpkin seeds, green leafy vegetables, including broccoli and kale. In short, a balanced and nutritious diet which contains a variety of foods, is the treatment for iron deficiency.
Consuming foods fortified with iron
Some foods including flour, grains, cereals, pasta, rice, bakery products, milk and dairy products, chocolate drinks, and infant formulas are fortified by adding iron into them so that those who cannot take it directly from food sources can opt for these instead.
A number of iron supplements are available in the form of ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, ferrous fumarate, and heme iron. If you have iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may prescribe iron supplementation to correct iron deficiency. It is particularly important during infancy, intense exercise, and pregnancy, where biological iron needs are the highest.
Iron injections require medical supervision. They can be given when oral iron supplementation is not tolerated, which is often the case for people with malabsorption from celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. It is also recommended in cases where hemoglobin must be increased rapidly like after a surgery or blood transfusion.
Different Forms of Iron Supplements
Supplemental iron is found in ferrous and ferric forms. Since the ferric form must be converted in the body to the ferrous form for absorption, the ferrous form is more bioavailable and thus preferred
Commonly used oral ferrous iron supplements include
- Ferrous citrate
- Ferrous sulfate
- Ferrous gluconate
- Ferrous succinate
- Amino acid chelates, such as iron bisglycinate and iron aspartate
- Heme iron
Common Side Effects of iron supplements
Oral iron causes side effects in up to 60% of people, such as gut irritation, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and heartburn. To minimize side effects and increase tolerability, lower doses between meals are recommended, although food reduces iron absorption by two-thirds
Who shouldn’t take iron supplements?
Iron supplements should not be used in people who have:
- Normal iron balance (men, postmenopausal women) because iron will not be absorbed and will just pass through the body.
- Hemochromatosis (iron overload).
- Received repeated blood transfusions.
- Hemolytic anemia, which may increase blood iron levels and cause toxicity.
- Inflammation of the digestive system (peptic ulcer, colitis, diverticular disease), because it can directly irritate the gut and exacerbate these conditions.