As one of your body’s essential nutrients/minerals, iron plays a key role in carrying oxygen throughout your body so as to keep you properly energized and able to perform the dozens of not hundreds of tasks you perform daily. An iron deficiency can be signaled by a variety of symptoms that can afflict you, any of which can be mistaken for something else unless you have it examined and diagnosed by your physician. In America at least, there really is no excuse for being shirt of iron, even though many people somehow aren’t getting enough of it.
According to the World Health Organization, almost half of the world’s more than 1.6 billion cases of anemia – a condition in which your body has a shortage of healthy red blood cells – can be linked back to a shortage of iron in your system, per prevention.com. Americans might be the best-fed people in the world (even if not the healthiest eaters), and yet it is estimated that about 10 million U.S. residents suffer from an iron deficiency. And it afflicts women more than men. Per prevention.com, iron deficiency is more commonly found in pregnant women, young children, women with heavy periods, vegetarians or vegans, and those who often donate blood.
Why Iron Is Important to Your Health
The best way to illustrate why iron is indispensable to your health is to examine what happens when you have a deficiency. Such a shortage can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, which means your red blood cells are unable to transport as much oxygen to your tissues as is needed, per thedailynutrition.com. And without enough oxygen being supplied throughout your body, you are looking at oxygen deprivation, which in turn can lead to significant health-related issues. In essence, your body can’t breathe properly.
Digging deeper, iron’s fundamental role in all this is to act as the building block for hemoglobin, which is the substance within your blood cells that actually carries the oxygen from the lungs to all destinations throughout your body, per powerofpositivity.com. So where does the iron go after you ingest it via foods or supplements? For starters, about two-thirds of it gets absorbed by your hemoglobin.
Signs of an Iron Deficiency
Per powerofpositivity.com, a shortage of iron in your body is the most common nutritional deficiency in America, with almost 10 percent of women lacking sufficient amounts of the mineral. Note that taking vitamin C with iron will help in the body's absorption of iron. Following are some of the common symptoms or signs of an iron deficiency:
- Brain fog. No other organ in your body requires as much energy to properly function, as the shortage of blood oxygen associated with an iron deficiency can cause cognitive issues such as problems concentrating, inhibited memory, or confusion and disorientation, per powerofpositivity.com.
- Odd cravings. As bizarre as this might sound, per prevention.com, a severe iron deficiency can have sufferers craving non-food items such as dirt, clay, cornstarch, paint chips, cardboard, and/or cleaning supplies, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. If you see someone munching on a sheet of paper, and they’re not joking around, you might consider making an appointment for them to see a health-care professional for examination. It’s nothing to laugh about.
- Restless leg syndrome. This is a condition characterized by constantly moving your legs while seated. Per prevention.com, the sensation has been described as a burning or tingling, or the feeling of insects crawling around inside your legs.
- Paleness. It looks like your whole body has seen a ghost, not just your face. Hemoglobin is what gives blood its reddish color, and a deficiency of iron and therefore hemoglobin will remove the color from your cheeks (and beyond).
- Headaches. Frequent or recurring headaches, as well as light-headedness, are often a sign that your brain isn’t getting the oxygen it needs. The culprit: typically, an iron deficiency, per thedailynutrition.com.
- Heart palpitations. This is a sign that enough oxygen isn’t getting to your heart, which translates to the heart working harder than usual to perform the same work it usually does. Your heart beats faster in compensating, and the result can be a feeling like you’re on a light jog even when you are seated and resting, per thedailynutrition.com.
- Shortness of breath. Even climbing one flight of stairs can have you breathing hard. That’s because your body, short on oxygen, is having to work extra hard to get up the steps.
- Other iron-deficiency symptoms can include the swelling of your tongue, dry skin, brittle fingernails, dry/cracked lips, and cold hands and feet.
If you suspect you might have a deficiency of iron, go see your doctor. He or she can administer a blood test to see what the problem might be, even if it’s not a problem with your iron supply.
Food Sources Rich in Iron
Numerous types of foods are abundant in iron, and nutritional supplements are readily available over the counter. Note: taking too much iron, particularly via supplementation, can also harm your health. Follow the directions in terms of what the recommended daily intake (RDI) is – ingesting more iron than recommended is not better, Per powerofpositivity.com, here are some of the best food sources of iron:
- Shellfish. Start with clams, mussels, and oysters. They also contain other nutrients and can raise good cholesterol levels as well.
- Spinach. A standard serving of spinach contains about 20 percent of the RDI for iron.
- Legumes. This includes lentils, beans, and chickpeas.
- Pumpkin seeds. These also are rich in another essential mineral – magnesium.
- Quinoa. A gluten-free food popular for fans of breakfast cereals.
- Turkey. A good source of protein as well.
- Tofu. Another good source of protein, as well as essential amino acids.