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Iron deficiency

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Happy New Year everyone. I hope you had a very merry Christmas also!

This month I wanted to provide some information about iron deficiency and how to improve iron your levels should you need to.

Iron deficiency affects up to one in five people. Pregnant women, women with heavy menstrual bleeding, children, the elderly, vegetarians, and people with chronic gastrointestinal disorders are more likely to have low iron. Iron is important to us as it helps produce haemoglobin which red blood cells use to transport oxygen around the body for our cells to utilise. Iron is stored in the body for later use in a variety of places including the liver, bone marrow and muscles.

Low iron levels can be classified as non-anaemic, where the body has enough iron to make healthy red blood cells but no stores, or anaemic where the body has neither enough stored iron or enough to make healthy red blood cells. Less commonly the body may have enough iron stores but a chronic source of infection or inflammation may impair our ability to utilise the iron in our body.
Iron deficiency can cause a wide variety of negative symptoms including; fatigue, lowered ability to exercise, inability to concentrate, dizziness, weakness, ringing in the ears, chest pain and shortness of breath.

How much iron we absorb into the body is highly impacted by other foods.

Iron can be taken with Vitamin C to increase its absorption into our body. Conversely taking Iron with calcium, coffee, cereals, nuts, wine, or tea can reduce the amount we absorb so it is probably best to take your iron tablets later in the day if you enjoy a tea or coffee with your Weetbix. Iron sourced from animal products is different than iron sourced form plants! Animal based iron sources are more easily absorbed into the body and less likely to be impacted by the effects of calcium and tea.

For many of us iron levels can be elevated by making changes to our diet and this is preferred over supplements. Try to regularly add iron rich foods like lean meats, fish, lentils. Pair non animal sources of iron with sources of vitamin C such as citrus and strawberries. Avoid having iron with the previously listed foods that restrict our absorption as well as calcium.

If supplementation is requested by your doctor generally it is taken as a tablet once daily, these come in a variety of different forms but usually equate to about 100mg of elemental iron per dose. Some products contain vitamin C to help absorb the iron. Iron supplementation should be reviewed after three to six months and stopped if iron stores and levels have returned to normal.

Occasionally iron supplements can cause adverse effects like nausea, darkened stool, and constipation, taking your tablets every second day may relieve these uncomfortable issues.
Liquid iron supplements can stain teeth, to minimise this make sure to drink it through a straw and brush right after having your dose. Overdosing on iron is possible and can be dangerous also there is a limit to how much iron we can absorb daily, so stick to the directions on the package or from your doctor. Pregnant women routinely get blood tests in the first trimester and should only take iron supplements on the advice of their GP.
Here’s to a happy and healthy 2024!