Iron is used by the body to make hemoglobin. In addition to this, iron aids in the transport of oxygen from the lung to the cells and organs in your body. When you do not get enough iron, you are unable to produce the number of red blood cells your body needs for optimal health. Not creating enough red blood cells can lead to anemia. This is why you must learn to control iron deficiency through supplementation and healthy diet choices.
Approximately 60 percent of iron in the body is found in hemoglobin. The next largest storehouse of iron is ferritin. Ferritin is a protein that attaches to iron and stores itself in your bone marrow, spleen, and liver. When you need more iron, the body draws ferritin from these stores to improve iron levels.
When you do not have enough stored iron, you can experience the following symptoms:
Fatigue – When you are anemic, the organs, cells, and tissues in the body do not get the oxygen that they need. When this occurs, the heart muscle works harder to transport oxygen throughout the body, resulting in tiredness.
Dizziness and headaches – Iron deficiency decreases the amount of oxygen in the brain, resulting in dizziness. Additionally, the blood vessels in your brain begin to swell, resulting in excess pressure in the brain, which can cause headaches.
Pale skin – The hemoglobin found in red blood cells is what makes blood have its red color. When you suffer from an iron deficiency, the blood is less red, resulting in pale skin. In addition to pale skin, the inside of your lower eyelids, gums, nails, and lips become pale.
Shortness of breath – Hemoglobin helps transport oxygen throughout the body. When your iron levels are low, the tissues and muscle in your body will not have the oxygen they need. As a result, you will increase your breathing rate to help increase oxygen in the body.
Heart palpitations – When you suffer from anemia, your heart must work harder which can lead to irregular heartbeats (palpitations). In extreme cases of anemia,you can go into heart failure, you can develop a heart murmur, or your heart can become enlarged.
Dry skin and hair – Oxygen is needed for healthy skin and hair. When oxygen levels decline due to anemia, you may notice that your hair begins to become weak and dry. As anemia worsens, hair begins to fall out and skin becomes dry and cracked.
Restless leg syndrome – Iron deficiency can cause itchy sensations and unpleasant crawling sensations in your feet and legs. When this occurs, you subconsciously have a strong urge to move your legs while you are sleeping.
Increased risk of infections – The immune system needs iron to help fight off viruses, bacteria, and fungi. When you suffer from low iron levels, you are at a greater risk of experiencing illnesses caused by microbes.
Most Americans get the iron that they need from the foods they eat. However, those who follow a vegan lifestyle can be at risk of an iron deficiency. Animal products, including red meat, fish, and poultry contain heme iron. This iron is attached to a hemoglobin protein, and the body has an easier time extracting and using the iron from animal products.
Plant foods do not contain a hemoglobulin protein, and the body has a harder time absorbing non-heme iron. Those who do not eat meat or eat very little meat must eat a variety of vegetables, beans, and fruits that contain non-heme iron. Some of the best non-animal iron-rich foods include leafy green vegetables, mushrooms, legumes, and whole grain. Additionally, to help the body better absorb non-heme iron, you need to ensure that you are getting enough vitamin C which is found in citrus fruits and berries.
One-fourth of the world’s population suffers from anemia. One of the main causes of iron deficiency is blood loss, which is why approximately 20 percent of women and 50 percent of pregnant women suffer from anemia. Conversely, only 3 percent of men have low iron levels. The key to preventing iron deficiency is to eat an iron-rich diet and if needed, take an iron supplement. As you eat animal foods and iron-rich plant-based foods, the body digests the food and the iron is absorbed into the bloodstream in the small intestine.