Are you Iron Deficient?

Everybody needs iron, a mineral that performs many functions. Iron disperses oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies, produces red blood cells, and aids in digestion, among other things. While iron is plentiful in many foods, some people still don't get enough. This can be due to rapid growth during childhood, menstruation, pregnancy, intestinal or stomach diseases, or problems absorbing the iron they do ingest. What are some symptoms that indicate you may need to bump up your iron intake?

  • Unusual fatigue. This is the primary symptom of iron deficiency, as the red blood cells that give you energy are decreased.
  • Shortness of breath. You may also feel dizzy.
  • Pale coloring. This may affect both your skin and fingernails.
  • Feelings of cold. You may be unusually sensitive to cold, or have cold hands and feet.
  • Difficulty concentrating or learning. This particularly affects children, who may exhibit problems in school.
  • Cardiac problems. While it's unlikely, severe iron deficiency can cause complications such as heart attack due to low levels of oxygen in the heart.

To correct an iron deficiency and its symptoms, you should first assess your diet. It's important to understand that dietary iron takes two forms: heme iron, which the body absorbs easily, and nonheme iron, which it does not. The number-one source of heme iron is lean red meat, followed by chicken, turkey and fish. If you're a vegetarian or simply dislike animal protein, you can eat nonheme iron-rich foods such as beans, fortified cereals and some vegetables. Eating them with vitamin C-rich foods increases the amount of iron absorbed by the body.

Unfortunately, some of the most healthful foods you can eat serve to decrease the amount of nonheme iron that your body absorbs, such as milk, eggs, spinach, and anything with lots of fiber. To be completely sure you're getting the right amount of iron, speak to your doctor about taking an iron supplement. Most adolescents and adults need about 10 mg. of iron daily, but pregnant women need significantly more-up to 30 mg. for the health of their baby.




The Mayo Clinic,

National Institutes of Health,