“Iron deficiency, could you be in the 1 out of 8 of the population affected?”
Iron deficiency continues to rank at the top of the list for the most common nutritional deficiency in the world and is also the most significant cause of anaemia in pregnancy. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that around the world a staggering 293 million young children and 468 million non-pregnant women suffer from anaemia among which 50% are estimated to be attributable to iron deficiency. Furthermore, the Australian Health survey suggests 1 in 8 Australian’s aged two years and over have inadequate dietary intakes or iron.
However, it is very possible to have low iron levels without being anaemic, but iron deficiency that remains undiagnosed or untreated most commonly progresses to iron deficiency anaemia, which is the most common form of the condition.
“Hemoglobin is made by the body and is found in our red blood cells”
First of all, to fully grasp why anaemia and iron deficiency is so important, the red blood cells and hemoglobin need to be addressed. Hemoglobin is made by the body and is found in our red blood cells; it is solely responsible for carrying oxygen around our body to our organs and tissues. In anaemia, there is a lower concentrate of hemoglobin in the blood, reducing its ability to carry oxygen sufficiently.
This is where iron comes in. Iron is an essential mineral that is required to produce hemoglobin. Consequently, lower levels of iron, lead to lower concentrations of hemoglobin and lower levels of available oxygen.
What are the signs or symptoms of iron deficiency and anaemia?
Initial signs of an iron deficiency can be very similar to the early signs of any nutritional deficiency and can be hard to identify as being caused by iron.
- A feeling of being “run-down”
- Poor concentration
Other symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath and chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- A pale complexion
- Cold hands and feet
- Sore or inflamed tongue
- Poor appetite can be seen in children cases
Less common symptoms can include:
- Hair loss
- Altered sense of taste
- Ulcers on the corner of the mouth
- Koilonychias- Spooning shaped indentation of the nails
- Experiencing cravings for unusual things like ice, dirt or starch
Who is at risk?
According to Australia’s department of health, iron deficiency anaemia is considerably higher among indigenous populations compared to the general population. Also, Australia’s prevalence of deficiency is lower for pregnant women, compared to developing countries.
However, people of any age who chose to eat a restrictive diet, such as vegetarian or vegan are also more commonly affected by an iron deficiency. Other people who can be at risk:
- Children, due to the increased amounts required for growth and development.
- Women are at a higher risk due to menstrual loss and pregnancy.
- Frequent blood donors.
- People with conditions that affect the absorption of iron such as crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and coeliac disease.
- Slow chronic blood loss, which can be found in the following: peptic ulcer, hiatal hernia, colon polyp or colorectal cancer.
How much iron should we be getting?
The Australian and New Zealand Nutrient Reference Values (NRVs) recommend the following dietary intakes:
- The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for men 19-70 years and over is 8mg per day.
- The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for women 19-50 years is 18mg per day, 51 years and over is 8mg per day.
- Pregnant women of all ages are recommended to have 27mg per day.
The highest food sources of iron?
Interestingly, meat sources of iron are more easily absorbed than plant-based irons. Good sources of iron include; red meat, liver, kidney, chicken, fish, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, eggs, dried fruits, nuts and seeds and tofu.
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Finally, due to the high numbers of iron deficiency, it is important to eat a diet rich in the mineral to prevent future complications like heart disease, depression, poor immune system, lung problems, and developmental problems for children.
Seek further diet and lifestyle advice from your health practitioner.
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