Who wants to start 2015 feeling totally exhausted!? Any takers? Nope, we didn’t think so. But if you’re just kicking off your first week back at work and despite all those holiday sleep-ins, are still feeling exhausted, grumpy, unfocused, or are catching every sniffle going around, it might be worth getting your iron levels checked.
Iron deficiency is one of the most widespread nutritional disorders in the world. The causes include inadequate dietary intake, blood loss (i.e. heavy menstrual period, regular blood donations and certain medications), increased need (adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women), exercise and an inability to absorb iron due to a number of issues.
Today we tell you all about iron, why you need it and how to get more of it!
Why do you need iron?
Iron is one of the most important nutrients required for optimal mental and physical function, including things like immunity, temperature regulation, energy production, metabolism and DNA synthesis.
Iron is stored and transported in the blood as ferritin and is essential for the formation of haemoglobin (a protein in your blood that carries oxygen and carbon dioxide) and for the transfer of oxygen from your lungs to your body’s tissues.
This means no matter how much you breathe oxygen in, your brain, muscles and vital organs can’t get enough of that much needed O2 without adequate haemoglobin levels. This is part of the reason you feel so exhausted and unfocused if you’re low in iron.
Iron deficiency means that the body’s ferritin levels are low but haemoglobin levels are still normal and the symptoms include fatigue, lower productivity and reduced endurance.
You can improve your ferritin levels by making sure you get an adequate dietary intake of iron. If left unaddressed, this issue often develops into a condition called Iron Deficiency Anaemia, when dramatically reduced ferritin levels cause low levels of haemoglobin, leading to shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, coldness in your hands and feet, pale skin, chest pain, weakness, and fatigue (tiredness).
Other nasty signs and symptoms may include brittle nails, swelling or soreness of the tongue, cracks in the sides of the mouth, an enlarged spleen, frequent infections and weird cravings for non-food items, such as ice, dirt, paint, or starch.
Training at a high intensity, especially in hot conditions, as well as exercising for very long periods of time such as long distance running and triathlons, can potentially impact iron levels as well, due to profuse sweating and haemolysis.
This is a perfectly normal physiological process and does not impose any health risks, as long as your daily diet contains foods rich in iron.
What could potentially harm you is thinking you can make up for your poor diet by taking an iron supplement. And always consult with your GP first before self-diagnosing and self-medicating, as iron supplements are toxic to your body if you don’t suffer iron deficiency!
The Best Dietary Sources Of Iron
Although many of us think spinach is the best source of iron, that is actually a myth…sorry Popeye!!!
Iron comes in two forms, haem and non-haem. Haem iron comes from animal sources such as meat and has about a 25% absorption rate, whilst non-haem iron found in plants (particularly green leafy vegetables, nuts and legumes) has only got a 3-15% absorption rate.
This is why vegetarians who exclude all animal food sources from their diet may need almost twice as much dietary iron each day as non-vegetarians.
Furthermore, absorption of non-haem iron is affected by other nutrients such as vitamin C and tannins (coffee, tea and alcohol). Adding foods rich in vitamin C or heam-iron will increase non-heam iron absorption whereas dairy, coffee, tea and alcohol intake will hinder it.
So if you want to feel as energetic as Popeye, have some meat with your spinach and stay away from lattés and booze.
The recommended daily iron dietary intake is 8mg for adult males, 18mg for adult females and 27mg for pregnant women.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 130g of beef or lamb every second day to ensure optimal iron levels in healthy adults.
Food Milligrams of iron in 100g
Beef biltong = 8mg
Oysters = 5.7mg
Beef liver = 5.2mg
Lean beef = 3mg
Turkey dark meat = 2.3mg
Lamb = 2mg
Turkey breast = 1.4mg
For more information check www.irondeficiency.com