Iron is a mineral used by the body to make hemoglobin, which is a protein found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is used by the body to transport oxygen to the cells and tissues through the body. In addition to this, it returns carbon dioxide to the lungs where it can be transported out of the body.
When you do not get enough iron, you cannot produce the red blood cells that are needed for optimal health. When your body cannot create enough red blood cells, it can lead to anemia. This is why you must learn to control this condition through supplementation and healthy diet choices.
Approximately 60 percent of iron in the body is found in hemoglobin. The next largest storehouse of is ferritin. Ferritin is a protein that attaches to iron and stores itself in your bone marrow, spleen, and liver. When your body needs more iron, the body draws ferritin from these stores.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia?
When your body does not have an ample amount of hemoglobin, your muscles and tissues will not be able to receive the oxygen they need. Over time, your iron levels can decline and lead to anemia, which causes 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 anemia, 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 you are anemic, the tissues and muscles 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 are anemic, you are at a greater risk of experiencing illnesses caused by microbes.
Weakness – When your muscles do not receive the oxygen they need, they can begin to atrophy and lead to weakness.
Cravings – When you are suffering from anemia, you may begin to experience strange cravings. Many individuals report strange cravings, including dirt, clay, or ice.
Cold feet and hands – A deficiency of iron prevent oxygen from reaching your extremities, which can lead to cold hands and feet. In addition to this, your nails can become brittle.
What causes iron deficiency?
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 anemia. Animal products, including red meat, fish, and poultry contain heme iron. Heme iron is attached to a hemoglobin protein, and the body has an easier time extracting and using the heme 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.
Certain medical conditions can prevent the body from properly absorbing iron. Celiac disease, gastric bypass surgery, and other intestinal surgeries may reduce the amount of iron your body can absorb. Healing your intestinal tract through stress reduction, diet, exercise, and sleep can help improve your body’s ability to absorb iron.
What health complications are associated with iron deficiency anemia?
Most people who have iron deficiency only have a mild case that doesn’t cause any complications. Most of the time, this anemia is easily corrected. If left untreated, it can lead to several health conditions, including:
- Heart failure – When you suffer from anemia, your heart must work harder to pump more blood, which can lead to an irregular heart rate. In severe cases, anemia can lead to an enlarged heart and even heart failure.
- Pregnancy complications – If you are pregnant and have untreated anemia, it can cause your baby to be born prematurely or to have a low birth weight. Prenatal vitamins with iron can help address a deficiency and reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.
- Developmental and growth delays – Children who have an iron deficiency are at an increased risk of delayed growth and development. They are also at an increased risk of infections.
How is iron deficiency treated?
First, your doctor will work to determine what is causing your deficiency. In addition to this, your doctor will treat your deficiency through dietary changes, nutritional supplements, or both.
- Iron supplements –Supplements provide your body with the iron needed to restore your stores. It may take several months for your stores to build back up. These supplements can cause an upset stomach, black stools, and constipation.
- Diet – Eating iron rich foods, including red meat, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables, fortified cereals, and nuts can help to restore your levels.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C improves your body’s ability to absorb iron. If you are taking a supplement, your doctor may recommend taking a vitamin C supplement or drinking a glass of orange juice when you take your supplement or eat iron-rich foods.
Iron deficiency causes a number of symptoms. It is important to talk with your doctor if you think you may have anemia. The underlying condition that is causing your deficiency must be discovered. Once it is addressed, the appropriate treatment can be started.