The Importance of Iron

Feeling tired? Or maybe experiencing cold hands and feet? Believe it or not, those symptoms could actually be related to your Iron levels! Iron is an important mineral that helps your body make hemoglobin (which helps transport oxygen throughout your body). Pretty vital, right?

In addition to assisting with the production of hemoglobin, Iron also helps reduce fatigue, increase muscle strength and treat anemia. While there are many plant-based and animal sources of Iron, deficiency is still pretty common. If you think you may have a deficiency, you should have your blood levels tested by a doctor prior to trying any form of supplementation.

Benefits

Anemia – Low production of hemoglobin in the blood leads to anemia, which can cause, among other things, major fatigue, dizziness and weakness. A diet high in Iron and supplements can help increase Iron levels, but always, never supplement without direction from your healthcare provider.

Reduces fatigue – Even for those without anemia, insufficient Iron can cause fatigue. In fact, more than half of those who are Iron deficient experience fatigue, especially menstruating women.

Muscle Strength – Oxygen is essential for muscle contraction and adequate Iron levels ensure that your muscles can get enough oxygen. Some research has even shown that low iron levels are linked to muscle loss.

Strong immunity – Hemoglobin does not only provide oxygen to your muscles, but to other damaged tissues, organs and damaged cells – all of which are integral to a strong immune system. 

Deficiency

Cold hands and feet – Some people may experience cold hands and feet when Iron deficient, since there is a lack of oxygen making its way to their extremities. Those with low Iron levels may also experience restless legs.

Extreme fatigue – While fatigue may be more and more common today given overload from work and responsibilities at home, it is worth having a blood test if this symptom persists. Especially if you are sleeping through the night and still feel tired throughout the day.

Heart palpitations – A rather alarming symptom, low Iron can cause heart palpitations. This is happening because your heart has to work harder to carry oxygen through your body due to low hemoglobin. 

Who is at risk for Iron deficiency?

Menstruating women – While everyone will lose some Iron in urine, feces and the skin, menstruating women can lose much more due to blood loss. 

Vegans/Vegetarians – Plant-based diets can easily supply you with enough Iron, it should be noted that the dietary form of Iron found in plants, “non-heme”, is more difficult to absorb than its counterpart “heme”. Meats, poultry and seafood contain both “heme” and “non-heme”, which makes their Iron more bioavailable. Those on a plant-based diet should be diligent and ensure they are consuming enough Iron and absorbing it properly. Vitamin C helps with Iron absorption, as does ensuring your digestion is optimal. 

Sources

  • Leafy greens: spinach, kale, swiss chard, beet greens
  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils), pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseed, whole grains
  • Shellfish, liver and organ meat, red meat, turkey

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