Iron deficiency is a common problem that affects many women. You might even be low in iron without even realising it at first! When our body is low in iron, this can really affect our energy levels, leaving us feeling fatigued and run down. I personally choose to avoid synthetic multivitamins and supplements whenever possible (unless otherwise recommended by my naturopath or GP). Instead, I prefer to take advantage of the amazing natural whole-food supplements available to us and I have found a wonderful Iron boosting idea for us.
Why do our bodies need iron?
Iron is a dietary mineral with the important task of transporting oxygen through the bloodstream.1 It's found most commonly in haemoglobin (red blood cells) and myoglobin (muscle tissue). Iron is essential to everyday bodily functions like producing energy. Which is why we feel fatigued and tired whenever these levels deplete.
How much iron do we need?
Depending on your age and gender, your body will need different amounts of iron per day. According to the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, these range from 8 mg per day for children, men, women during lactation and women over 51, to 18 mg per day for women between 19-50 and 27 mg per day for pregnant women.2
What are some symptoms of iron deficiency?
The most common symptoms of iron deficiency include feeling fatigued or weak, feeling short of breath or dizzy, paleness, tongue swelling, sore legs, and headaches. Other symptoms include an irregular heartbeat, brittle nails and cold hands and feet.3
It is important to note that you should first consult your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms or suspect you may be iron deficient. This is particularly important for anyone considering iron supplements, as iron can become toxic at too high of a dosage!1 The below Iron booster is not intended to replace any healthcare advice or iron supplements. We also have a fully qualified, practicing Naturopath on staff here at Nourished Life if you would like any advice and next steps on this topic.
Where can we get more iron?
Eating iron rich foods is the most effective way for the body to absorb iron. The best source of iron is from animal based foods like red meat. However, my vegans, you can also absorb iron through plant based foods like dried fruit, grains, nuts and seeds, lentils, beans and green vegetables.4
Did you know that eating foods rich in Vitamin C can actually help the body absorb more iron? Foods such as oranges, tomatoes, berries, capsicum and potatoes can assist in the absorption of iron.4 Although, this only works if you eat them raw! Coffee, tea and wine on the other hand can reduce iron absorption, as can calcium based foods like cheese and milk.4
Who is most at risk of iron deficiency?
People who are most at risk of being low in iron are babies and toddlers, teenage girls, menstruating women, pregnant and lactating women and female athletes.1 Some of the most common reasons for an iron deficiency include:
Blood loss: As iron is found in the blood, chronic blood loss can cause an iron deficiency. This is why heavy menstruation, regular nosebleeds, certain medication and regular blood donation can put you higher at risk.1
Exercise: Regular exercise also increases the body's need for iron as we lose iron through sweating!1
Vegetarian diet/ low meat intake: Heam Iron (found in animal tissue) is a lot more easily absorbed than non-haem iron.1 This means that people who consume little to no meat, may have a higher chance of becoming iron deficient.
Inability to absorb iron: Adults are usually able to absorb between 10-15% of dietary iron. However, some people are unable to absorb iron from food, which puts them at risk of becoming deficient.1
(sources: 1betterhealth.vic.gov.au, 2nhmrc.gov.au, 3healthline.com, 4healthdirect.gov.au, 5koja.com.au)