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Watch out for Low Iron Levels

Are you ... Feeling tired? Lethargic? Having trouble thinking or concentrating? Feeling dizzy? Weak? Pale Skin? Always feeling cold? Having Heart Palpitations? These are all symptoms of Low Iron Levels.Speaking generally (using US based statistics) -

"The prevalence of iron deficiency among nonpregnant women aged 20-44 y increased 150% from 1976-1980 to 1988-1994 (8) and did not decline in 1999-2000.' (http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/reprint/126/9_Suppl/2404S.pdf) Studies are showing that the amount of iron the average woman of any age is getting from her daily diet is decreasing.

Why are women more likely to be iron deficient?

From the statistics it would seem that our biology, the fact we bleed each month and at pregnancy support new life puts us at risk of not getting enough iron.

If we have had a couple of children, depending on our diet and awareness, then the chances that we are working off our bone marrow reserves are reasonable. The trouble is if we are busy with a couple of kids, feeling tired and lack lustre then we might not realise that lack of iron is the problem - we might just think its life - that we need to get more sleep or need a holiday.

This is what happened to a friend of mine - she has a history of heavy periods, she has 3 kids, she's working full time and she was starting to feel tired all the time. It wasn't until she went to the doctor to see about the heart palpitations she was having that her seriously low iron levels were discovered.

It turns out she was severely iron deficient and anemic - in fact because of her heavy bleeding and low iron levels her doctor wanted to give her a hysterectomy. Luckily my friend did some research on her options and got some help from more holistic practitioners. With continuing medical and alternative treatment her iron levels are getting better and she has kept her womb.

What does Iron do?

Your body needs iron so it can make hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to body tissues. Brain activity, breathing, cellular respiration and every activity of the body depends on there being enough iron in the blood.

Good iron levels mean that you have a glowing complexion, your energy levels are up and you generally feel well."Much of the iron in your body is stored in the bone marrow that makes blood cells. When there is not enough iron in the bloodstream, the body uses the bone marrow reserves. If this iron stored in the bone marrow is low, red blood cells do not form properly: they are smaller than usual (microcytosis) and fewer. As a result, less hemoglobin is available to transport oxygen throughout the body." (http://www.vitamins-nutrition.org/vitamins/mineral-deficiencies.html)

When your iron levels are low you are basically starving your body and all its systems and organs of oxygen.

How do we get iron?

Iron is available in two forms heme and nonheme. Heme forms of iron are found in meat and poultry and are absorbed quite easily by the body. Nonheme iron is found in vegetable and grains and is absorbed less readily.

This page http://ibscrohns.about.com/cs/nutrition/a/fdairon.htm has excellent information on iron in the diet including the factors that affect how iron is absorbed in the body. Certain other substances / foods also affect how readily iron is absorbed, for example, vitamin C increases iron absorption.

To Supplement or Not?

It is generally considered a bad idea to self medicate with iron supplements. Iron overload is just as dangerous as iron deficiency. If you suspect your iron levels may be low see your doctor and get looked after professionally.

Written by Nadia MacLeod