Way’s to help if you you have low Iron
Iron is a vital element in your body and without it, normal body functions would fail.
One of the primary roles of iron is to carry oxygen in the body. It is an important component of haemoglobin which transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. If your body does not have enough iron, it cannot produce enough red blood cells which contain haemoglobin. You will have too little haemoglobin in the blood i.e. anaemia.
Women are prone to anaemia because they lose blood every month through menstruation. In fact, women are advised to eat foods that contains a lot of iron to avoid deficiency. Pregnant women are recommended to consume 27 mg of iron per day while men require only 8 mg of iron in a day!
The Stages of Low Iron
Deficiency of iron has different stages and it can be diagnosed by the following blood tests:
- Testing the level of serum ferritin – a protein that stores iron in the body
- Haemoglobin test – a protein that carries oxygen in the body
Stage 1 of iron depletion is evident when serum ferritin falls below 30 micrograms per litre.
Stage 2 (also referred to as latent iron deficiency) is when ferritin levels fall below 20 micrograms per litre. This means that the cells and tissues in the body are not receiving iron needed to function properly.
The final stage is known as anaemia and it is characterized by weakness and fatigue because the red blood cells cannot distribute oxygen around the body.
Symptoms of iron deficiency
Although you only know for sure you have low iron by being diagnosed by a doctor, there are symptoms associated with iron deficiency. Some of these symptoms are:
- Hair loss
- Fatigue/ lethargy
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Pale skin or face
- Feeling cold or low skin temperatures
What are you supposed to do?
First make sure you get the right diagnose, by asking for the right blood test. Some of these have been mentioned above, but there are more options. These are tests to measure the level of iron in the blood, the capacity of the body to absorb iron and the amount stored in the body.
- Ferritin – is used to measure the amount of iron stored in the body because it is the major iron storage protein in the body
- Transferrin – To determine the level of iron in the body, the iron bound to protein transferrin is measured. Transferrin is formed in the liver and it is the major carrier of iron in the blood.
- Total iron binding capacity measures all the proteins in the body that are responsible for transporting iron.
- Transferrin saturation is the percentage of transferrin that is saturated with iron. If the percentage is less than 20, delivery of iron is impaired. On the other hand, if the percentage is higher than 60, iron might be deposited in organs other than the bone marrow and this can lead to organ damage.
Purpose of iron tests
- To detect iron overload and also monitor the removal of iron in people who have hemochromatosis
- To detect/evaluate abnormalities in iron metabolism
- To determine what causes anaemia and monitor patients who have chronic anaemia
After getting your test results, you will receive professional advice from medical practitioners advising you on the way forward. In fact, you may get some prescriptions or need to change your diet depending on your specific results.
Sources of iron to prevent deficiency
Normally, your body absorbs iron two to three times more from animal sources when compared to plant sources. Some sources of iron from animals include:
- Lean beef
However, even if your body absorbs iron from plant sources at a slower rate, there are numerous sources of iron from plants. In addition, you will benefit from vitamin C which is vital in preventing scurvy. Some plant sources include:
- Baked potatoes
- Beans and lentils
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Whole grain and enriched bread
- Dark green leafy vegetables e.g. spinach
Avoid the following:
- Added sugars or sweeteners
- Processed grains
- Dark chocolate – because it contains tannins which inhibit absorption of iron. You should moderate your intake
- Bran – it is an insoluble fibre that traps and removes iron during absorption
- Soda – besides having high sugars or sweeteners, soda blocks absorption of iron
- Coffee and black tea – if you take excess coffee it might block absorption of iron
- Conventional dairy – calcium usually binds with iron in foods thus inhibiting absorption
Other ways to boost iron in your body
- Use probiotics for a healthy gut
A healthy gut facilitates absorption of iron in the body. So you should be concerned with the health of your gut. It is recommended to add probiotic-rich foods to your diet to improve your gut health. You can try homemade yoghurt, sauerkraut and goat milk kefir.
- Reduce stress
If you are stressed out, your spleen and liver fail to function normally and this can result in iron deficiencies. Avoid stressing yourself by taking exercises, using essential oils, having enough sleep, seeking professional help, talking with people, doing what makes you happy among other positive things. You will improve your health and reduce stress thus avoiding anaemia.
- Take supplements
You can consider taking a B vitamin complex that has folate and iron supplements. These supplements will also help in reducing stress and spleen health which is vital in body health. But before you stock up on these, you should seek help from a practitioner instead of doing it yourself.