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Iron - an Essential Mineral

Iron - why is it so important to our bodies? It is because iron is a large component of haemoglobin - almost two-thirds of the body’s iron is found in it. Haemoglobin is found in red blood cells. It is the protein molecule that carries oxygen from the lungs to all the cells of the body and then brings the cells’ waste product, carbon dioxide, back to the lungs for disposal by breath. If your body doesn’t get enough iron, it can lead to iron deficiency anaemia.

Besides being important to maintain healthy red blood cells, iron is also necessary for healthy skin, hair and nails. Insufficient iron can cause hair loss & breakage, pale and lifeless skin, and brittle, dry nails. Our immune system relies on sufficient amounts of iron to work properly.

Other symptoms that are common for iron deficiency anaemia include:

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite

  • Pale complexion

  • Breathlessness

  • Headaches

  • Can’t concentrate

  • Heart palpitations

  • Weakness/dizziness

How do we get sufficient iron? To work this out, we need to be aware that there are two forms of dietary iron - heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in red meat, poultry, and fish (animal proteins), whereas nonheme iron mostly comes from plant sources such as grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Our bodies are most efficient at absorbing heme iron and less efficient at absorbing nonheme iron. However, we can help the body absorb iron by eating foods rich in heme iron with foods rich in vitamin C ie broccoli, strawberries etc. This is because vitamin C aids iron absorption. Another way to help the body absorb the iron in foods is to avoid drinking coffee, tea or calcium-rich foods with iron-rich foods.

You should be able to get all the iron you need from your diet if you eat plenty of whole food (including meat and fish) and keep away from processed food. The UK recommended amount of iron that non-vegetarians need is:

For men aged 19-50 - 8.7mg

For men aged 51+ - 8.7mg

For women aged 19-50 - 14.8mg

For women aged 51+ - 8.7mg

The RDA for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher than for those who eat meat. This is due to

heme iron from meat being more bioavailable than nonheme iron from plant-based foods.

Other groups of people who may be at risk of iron deficiency include teenage girls, menstruating women (particularly those with heavy periods), athletes, people with inflammatory bowel disease or coeliac disease, people with chronic diseases (ie cancer, kidney disease, heart failure, autoimmune diseases), alcoholics and those who have poor/restricted diets, or following fad diets.

So, if you have been feeling tired coupled with feeling, weak, irritable, or unable to focus, your body may not be absorbing sufficient amount of iron. It may be worth a visit to the doctor to find out for sure!

Our HealthMentors program focuses on all macro and micro nutrients and ensures a balanced intake of vitamins and minerals, so why not check it out?

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