Iron is an essential mineral to health as it is required for oxygen transportation around the body as well as being important for immunity and serotonin production. It is especially needed in females who experience iron loss each month. However, other lifestyle and dietary factors can impact iron levels and must be looked at if iron stores start to diminish. This causes low energy and fatigue, which is especially evident in the mornings as well as head spins or dizziness and palpitations (extreme deficiency). It is important not to self diagnose iron deficiency as exogenous iron can be toxic to the body, especially in high doses where it can cause gastrointestinal inflammation and free radical damage. There are also different forms of iron, some that are superior due to the high bioavailability and are less likely to cause side effects such as constipation and gastritis. The recommended daily intake for women is around 18mg and 10mg for men.
Foods high in iron:
· Red meat
· Egg yolks
· Chicken, turkey
· Dark leafy green vegetables e.g. spinach, kale, silverbeet
· Prunes, dried apricots
· Brewer’s yeast
Ways to boost your iron intake:
· Iron needs a high level of stomach acid to help with absorption so don’t drink large glasses of fluids with meals, have apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and water before main meals.
· Other nutrients required for iron absorption and utilization in the body are vitamin C, copper, calcium, protein, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and vitamin E.
· If you are going to supplement, look for the highly bioavailable forms such as ferrous succinate or ferrous gluconate. A liquid formulation is a good way of getting your iron levels up quickly – try Floradix or Fe-max Iron tonics. AVOID iron sulphate which is detrimental to the body and has nasty side effects (note – most chemist formulations are in this form but usually don’t actually have a positive effect on iron levels – you’re often better off with a lower dose of a more bioavailable form, taken for a longer period of time).
· Look out for foods that have iron-binding capacity as they will STOP absorption of iron – these are phytates which are found in soy products, flavonoids which are in black tea, green tea and coffee – always have these at least a half hour away from meals.
· Vitamin C with vegetarian sources of iron will increase the iron absorption from your meals – squeeze lemon juice over cooked spinach or have raw capsicum in your green leafy salad.
· A diet high in gluten can diminish iron absorption so limit your intake of bread, pasta, cereal and any products containing wheat flour.
· Long distance running and extreme exercise can destroy red blood cells, causing a loss in iron so ensure adequate intake if you are engaging in any endurance sports.
· Excessive menstruation can also result in iron deficiency, this and any other hormonal issues are best treated with a naturopathic consultation.
· Some supplements that improve iron levels due to their blood building properties are spirulina, Codonopsis pilosula and Withania somnifera.