Iron is an essential component for blood production. It is the major element found in the RBCs (red blood cells) in our body and is responsible for transmission of oxygen in our blood from the lungs to the cells and tissues in every part of our body.
About 70 percent of the body’s iron content is found in the RBCs in the form of hemoglobin and in the muscle cells called as myoglobin. Iron is also present in certain proteins, vital for respiration and energy metabolism and as a component of the enzymes responsible for the synthesis of collagen and other neurotransmitters. Iron is also required for maintaining the strength of the immune system of the body.
Approximately 25 percent of the iron content in our body is stored in the form of ferritin which is found in the cells. While the average adult male contains about 1000 mg stored iron (enough to survive 3 years), women have only 300 mg of stored iron (sufficient for only 6 months).
Thus, it is essentially important for women to consume iron rich diet to ensure sufficiency of iron in the blood.
When the body does not get sufficient amount of iron, it uses these stores. Iron deficiency refers to the condition when the stores of iron are depleted.
Further decrease in iron content is called iron- deficient erythropoiesis. Even further exhaustion leads to the extreme condition of iron deficiency anemia.
Causes Of Iron Deficiency
The most common cause of iron deficiency is found to be blood loss. It is almost always caused by gastrointestinal blood loss in men and women post menopause. In menstruating women, menstrual blood loss causes an increase in iron requirements. While oral contraceptives are helpful in decreasing bleeding, intrauterine devices increase blood loss. Other causes of respiratory tract bleeding and menstrual bleeding also contribute to increased iron requirements.
The daily iron requirement for an adult male is 1.8 mg. only 20 to 30 percent of the iron we consume is actually absorbed by the body. If your diet does not fulfill this requirement it is recommended to take iron supplements. Vitamin C should also be consumed because it helps the body absorb iron. Also, cooking in iron pots adds around 80 percent more iron in your food.
Low Iron Symptoms
Iron deficiency anemia signs and symptoms include:
1. Paleness in skin
If you have an unusually pale skin, it is a sign of reduced blood flow and decreased the number of red blood cells caused mostly due to iron deficiency.
2. Weakness and Lack of stamina
Reduced iron content leads to decrease in RBCs and hemoglobin present in the blood responsible for transporting oxygen to different parts of the body. Due to insufficient RBCs, the body becomes oxygen starved and lacks energy and endurance.
3. Feeling of fatigue
When you do not have enough blood cells, your oxygen absorbing capacity decreases and you get exhausted easily.
4. Headache, dizziness, and lightheadedness
Iron aids in the functioning of neurotransmitters. Deficiency of iron leads to less than normal performance of neurotransmitters causing mental draining such as a headache, dizziness, and difficulty in focusing.
Due to inadequate iron in your blood, your body lacks hemoglobin which is responsible for absorbing and transporting oxygen in your body. This starves the body of oxygen and causes fast heartbeat and difficulty in breathing.
6. Brittle nails
Iron deficiency also shows effects on our nails and hair. It causes brittle, concave shaped nails which look thin and fragile and cannot be revived even by manicure or pedicure.
7. Inflammation or soreness in muscles
A Little bit of soreness and pain in muscles after a workout is normal. But if your body is iron deficient, you will feel burns or soreness is your muscles for a longer time than usual. This is because iron deficiency weakens your immunity system deprives your muscles of the ability to recover quickly.
8. Poor appetite
We have already discussed that iron is beneficial in increasing appetite, especially in young children and infants. Thus, it is evident that lack of iron intake will lead to smaller appetite. So, parents must ensure that their children get the adequate amount of iron through diet and supplements.
Benefits of iron for human body
Iron is an essential nutrient for our body. It makes us healthier by metabolizing proteins and secreting hemoglobin in the blood. Iron plays a vital role in promoting the growth and development of our body. Its absence can cause fatigue for our body. Iron deficiency can cause diseases such as Iron Deficiency Anemia, cough, pre-dialysis anemia etc.
Iron has numerous benefits for our body, hair, and skin. Some of these benefits are highlighted below:
Skin Benefits of Iron
- Gives a pinkish glow to your skin.
Iron stimulates the secretion of hemoglobin present in the blood and the formation of Red Blood Cells which regulates the flow of oxygen in the blood. Insufficient amount of oxygen can cause dark circles and pale skin. Presence of iron-rich food in the diet gives a pinkish glow to the skin by increasing the oxygen consumption in the body.
2. Accelerates wound healing process.
Wound healing in any part of the body is caused by essential nutrients brought in the blood by inhaled oxygen. This oxygen is transported to different parts of the body by the RBCs present in the hemoglobin. Iron contributes in the formation of RBCs which is the main constituent of hemoglobin thus, speeding up the process of wound healing.
Hair Benefits of Iron
Fights Hair Loss
Iron helps in improving hair texture and shine. By increasing the inflow of oxygen and other essential nutrients to the roots and scalp, it nourishes hair follicles and reduces hair fall. Studies show that inadequate amount of iron in the diet can cause excessive hair fall in women, especially non-menopausal women.
Health Benefits of Iron
Makes You Energetic
Our body needs oxygen for functioning. This oxygen must reach every cell and tissue of the body in order to ensure proper functioning. Iron acts as the transporter of oxygen transferring it to every muscle and the brain which makes us physically energetic and mentally alert.
People suffering from iron deficiency often face irritation, difficulty in concentrating and feeling of fatigue. Studies show that taking iron supplements actually boosts exercise performance in women.
A study conducted by Journal of Nutrition on Kenyan students show that intake of iron supplements increases the appetite of children and thus, helps in the growth process. So, iron intake should be given special consideration by parents who are worried due to their child’s small appetite and tinted growth.
Improves muscle health
About 70 percent of the body’s iron content is found in the RBCs in the form of hemoglobin and in the muscle cells called as myoglobin. Myoglobin is a muscle protein responsible for carrying oxygen from hemoglobin and storing it in the muscles. The muscles require this oxygen to perform basic functions like expansion and contraction.
Contributes to Brain Development
For children in infancy stage, iron aids in the cognitive, social-emotional, motor and neuropsychological development. So, mothers should take care that their children are getting an iron rich diet for proper growth and development. Studies have shown that children having iron deficiency suffer from tinted growth and improper development.
Another amazing health benefit of consuming iron is that it strengthens the immunity system of the body. Iron is vital for a number of important immune functions namely differentiation and proliferation which help in fighting away germs and pathogens thus protecting our body from damages and diseases.
Provides Relief from Premenstrual Symptoms
Studies have shown that proper iron intake can help prevent a number of premenstrual symptoms like mood swings, dizziness, hypertension etc. women who have a high proportion of iron in their diet are much less likely to witness these symptoms compared to women consuming inadequate iron.
Foods Rich in Iron
The iron present in our diet comes from two sources- plants and animals. The iron coming from plants is known as a non-heme iron and can be found in iron rich foods such as cereals, vegetables like spinach and lentils etc. Iron coming from animal sources is called heme iron and is found in plenty in fish and meat of different kinds.
Our body can absorb heme iron better than non-heme iron, however, both are essential for the fulfillment of iron requirements. Doctors recommend an iron rich diet for people suffering from mild anemia. In serious cases, iron supplements are prescribed.
Here is a list of iron-rich food items which should be included in your daily diet to lead a healthy life.
The following items are good sources of heme iron (animal sources):
- Chicken liver
- Leg of lamb
- Beef liver
- Turkey leg
- Beef (chuck roast, lean ground beef)
Sources of nonheme iron (from plants):
- Raisin bran (enriched)
- Peanut butter
- Brown rice
- Instant oatmeal
- Beans (kidney, lima, Navy)
- Whole wheat bread
In order to help your body, absorb iron better, you can combine the non-heme sources of iron with Vitamin C foods such as orange juice.
- Certain types of anemia cannot be prevented. For example, sickle-cell disease is caused due to genetic reasons and thus, cannot be avoided if one inherits the genes.
- Anemia occurring due to excessive blood loss is also difficult to avoid since these injuries and accidents are unpredictable. If you face a situation of significant blood loss, you should try to stop blood from flowing as much as possible.
- For other types of anemia, supplements and vitamins can be taken to ensure proper iron intake. One should consult a doctor to understand the supplements required. The supplements you take depend on the kind of anemia you develop.
- In order to prevent iron deficiency, one must consume a properly balanced diet containing iron rich food. For some people, only a balanced diet is not adequate to fulfill the iron requirements and the doctors may suggest additional supplements and vitamins.
- You must keep a track of your symptoms and communicate the same to your doctor clearly. Sometimes, seemingly small problems may result in severe consequences if not dealt with seriously.
- If you feel dizzy or nauseous, immediately bend over your upper body to your knees and stay in the position until you start to feel stable again.
What is Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA)?
Iron deficiency anemia is a condition of inadequate production of Red Blood Cells in the blood due to deficiency of iron in the body. When your body does not have enough iron, it affects the formation of red blood cells which carry oxygen to different parts of your body.
How is IDA Caused?
IDA is caused when your body does not have enough iron content. There can be many reasons for this such as- when your body is having trouble absorbing oxygen if your diet lacks iron rich food; if you lose more iron than you gain or if you need more iron than usual (like during pregnancy).
Who is most susceptible to IDA?
There are certain factors which make you vulnerable to iron deficiency anemia. It can be induced by- gastrointestinal disorders, inflammatory diseases, heavy menstrual bleeding, cancer or chemotherapy, chronic kidney disease etc. you must consult your healthcare provider before making any change in your exercise or diet.
What steps should I take if I Have IDA symptoms?
If you think you might be experiencing any of the symptoms of IDA, you must first consult with your healthcare provider or a doctor. Take the tests recommended by the doctor. If he thinks that you are suffering from IDA, discuss ways to manage the condition and what changes are required in your diet and exercise. Always ensure to follow the doctor’s instructions properly to avoid the severe consequences.