Low iron, or iron deficiency, occurs when the body lacks sufficient iron to produce hemoglobin – a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. This condition is prevalent among people of all ages and can significantly affect one’s health, including energy levels and poor cognitive function. Addressing low iron levels is essential for maintaining overall well-being with various conditions. This article explores how to notice low iron before it becomes problematic, lists out the dietary sources of iron, risk factors, testing processes, and iron supplements.
Symptoms of Low Iron
When iron stores are depleted, the body will struggle to function appropriately, and people may experience the following symptoms:
Feeling fatigued, more exhausted than usual, or having difficulty completing your regular activities can be early signs of low iron. This is because the body will not be able to produce enough hemoglobin and oxygen to supply adequate energy to muscle and tissues.
General weakness is another obvious symptom of iron deficiency. You might struggle to lift heavy objects, feel easily exhausted while doing day-to-day chores, and be more susceptible to injury.
A feeling of lightheadedness, loss of balance, or even fainting could be linked with low iron levels. If you face constant dizziness, you need to consult your physician since it can lead to other complications.
D. Shortness of breath
Iron-deficient individuals might feel breathless even if their physical activity level is negligible, leading to extreme breathlessness during activities such as running and might cause anxiety and discomfort.
E. Pale skin
People with pale or yellowish skin tone can be an indicator of low iron levels. The red blood cells’ hemoglobin pigment give the skin a vivid reddish ton, and if it is not ample, the skin may lose its natural warmth and become pale.
Testing for Low Iron
The process to diagnose iron deficiency often begins with a blood test that measures the hematocrit and hemoglobin levels. These blood tests will assess the red blood cells’ production, size, and amount of hemoglobin in each cell.
A. Blood tests
Through a blood test, physicians can determine the total red blood cells count, measure the ferritin, serum iron, and transferrin levels as well to get an accurate assessment.
B. Process of testing
The simple process of getting your blood specimen drawn usually takes five minutes or less. Patients may feel a quick pinch or stinging sensation during the procedure if it is done at an angle, as would be possible waiting for prescription draws in a medical laboratory.
C. Understanding test results
If you get your blood work done and receive a lower-than-average hemoglobin count or ferritin, you may be experiencing low iron levels. Consult your doctor or a specialist if you need to evaluate your test results and check the iron content in specific organs for associated maladies.
Dietary Sources of Iron
Iron-rich foods are the most appropriate way to boost the body’s iron levels. It is easy to spot out iron-rich food since they come from both plant and animal sources.
A. Red meat
Beef, pork, and lamb are examples of red meat that are rich in heme iron, which is readily absorbed and utilized by the body.
B. Poultry and fish
Most poultry and fish provide heme iron for the body, with emerging studies pointing out that canned fish like sardines and tuna lead minerals like iron and calcium in their bones.
C. Beans and lentils
Beans and legumes are ideal for a vegetarian or vegan diet to get the necessary iron content required in the body. However, non-heme iron from this source will require additional dietary help, such as consuming vitamin C-rich foods and supplements, which will enhance its absorption.
D. Fortified cereals
Fortified breakfast cereals can be a fast option to start your day if you need iron, particularly if you are unable to consume the other sources. Most cereals contain a range of minerals, including iron, calcium, and magnesium, and are often labeled “high in iron.”
E. Spinach and kale
Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale are rich in non-heme iron, making them popular among vegetarian and vegan diets. In addition, non-heme iron is absorbed easily in the presence of vitamin C.
F. Other iron-rich foods
Soybeans, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, and tofu, among other plant-based choices, are excellent sources of iron. These foods give ample amounts of iron to aid the conversion of hemoglobin and boost iron content in organs like the liver and spleen directly, preventing anemia.
Risk Factors for Low Iron
A. Women of childbearing age
Research has shown that women are more susceptible to low iron levels than men; this is mainly because women’s menstrual cycles cause them to lose red blood cells along with the iron minerals present in them.
B. Pregnant women
Pregnant women undergo numerous hormonal shifts with the blood volume increasing while the baby absorbs the extra iron in the body. Therefore, pregnant women are advised to take iron supplements as prescribed by their doctors.
Vegetarians, especially vegans who exclude animal products in their diet, are more likely to have anemia because non-heme iron from plant foods is not absorbed as efficiently as heme iron from meat sources.
D. People with certain medical conditions
People who have undergone weight loss surgery, have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), or celiac disease are at an increased risk of developing low iron deficiencies. Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, particularly those with blood cancers, are also likely to experience low iron levels.
Iron supplements are another way to increase iron levels in the body. Iron supplements are commonly available in different forms such as pills, liquid, and even gummy candy or chewable tablets, and they come in two different types: heme and non-heme.
A. Types of iron supplements
The amount of elemental iron in supplements typically ranges from 18 mg to 65 mg. Your doctor will advise you on the amount of iron supplement you need, depending on your iron status. Non-heme iron tablets, on the other hand, contain iron salts such as ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, and ferrous gluconate.
B. Recommendations for usage
It is essential to consult a doctor before starting any supplements since higher intakes are associated with greater adverse effects, especially for those with pre-existing medical conditions. Also, do not buy over-the-counter medications without reading the labels or getting advice from your doctor since taking too much supplemental iron can be hazardous.
C. Risks and concerns
Iron supplements can interfere with other medications and may cause unwanted side effects. It can cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you experience any adverse side effects after taking iron supplements.
A. Beef and broccoli stir-fry
This classic dinner dish is an excellent source of iron, serving up a combination of beef and broccoli. Prepared with a ginger and garlic sauce, it complements a crispy and flavor-filled preparation.
B. Spinach and feta omelets
Of course, eggs, with an 8 percent Daily Worth of iron per egg, are also essential in your routine; spinach and feta cheese omelets help boost iron consumption.
C. Lentil and sweet potato curry
This vegetarian curry is quick to make and delicious, high-fiber dish containing lentils, coconut milk, sweet potato, and chickpeas.
D. Other recipes
Other iron-rich recipes you can try include quinoa and black bean tacos, hummus and veggie wrap, salmon teriyaki, etc.
Preventing Low Iron
A. Incorporating iron-rich foods into your diet
The most effective way to maintain healthy iron levels is to eat a diet that is abundant in iron-rich foods such as meats, whole grains, and dark leafy greens. It is beneficial to keep a food diary to record and monitor your diet to ensure adequate iron intake.
B. Avoiding drinking tea or coffee with meals
The tannins present in tea and coffee can inhibit iron absorption, so try to avoid drinking these beverages before, during, or immediately after meals.
C. Taking vitamin C supplements
Vitamin C helps enhance the absorption of non-heme iron found in plant-based foods. Therefore, incorporating vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, bell peppers, and berries into your meals highly promotes the absorption of iron.
D. Other tips
Additionally, do not donate blood too often or perform rigorous activities in specific medical conditions, avoid the overuse of over-the-counter ibuprofen or aspirin, as it can cause stomach inflammation and blood loss.
In conclusion, low iron levels can affect individuals in different ways, and insufficient treatment can result in anemia and reduced energy levels. It is essential to recognize the symptoms and risk factors and undergo testing if any signs and symptoms arise. A diet rich in iron-laden foods, supplements, and iron-rich recipes helps to prevent low iron, while incorporating vitamin C and avoiding coffee or tea during meals enhances absorption. Seek support from your doctor to ensure adequate diagnosis and treatment.