Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional problems in the UK, with almost 25% of women getting insufficient amounts according to a recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey.
A lack of iron over time can lead to anaemia, and women are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency than men, often due to heavy periods or pregnancy. Exercise-enthusiasts also have a high risk of developing anaemia due to a chronic lack of iron.
Why is iron so important to our wellbeing? It’s essential to make haemoglobin, a protein that helps the red blood cells store and carry oxygen to your tissues and organs. A lack of iron in the blood leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells.
If you’re permanently tired and suffer from insomnia and headaches, you may be one of millions of women that aren’t getting enough iron. Here’s what you need to know about iron deficiency…
According to the NHS, the most common symptoms are:
- Fatigue, especially when coupled with feeling weak and irritable, and having difficulty concentrating
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Pale complexion – noticeably paler lips, gums and inner eyelids are all good indicators of iron deficiency, regardless of skin tone
Less common symptoms include:
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Hair loss
- Pica (the desire to eat non-food items like ice or dirt)
- Restless leg syndrome
- Insomnia or disrupted sleep
Iron deficiency can be detected through a blood test from your GP.
- The loss of blood from heavy periods.
- Pregnancy – supplying the baby with oxygen can deplete the mother’s iron stores.
- Diet – vegetarians and vegans are at risk of iron deficiency as the body absorbs heme iron from animal sources up to 3 times more efficiently that non-heme iron from plant sources.
- Having coeliac disease or other inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease.
- In more serious cases, iron deficiency can be caused by stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal cancer and Chronic Kidney Disease.
What you can do?
Up your intake of iron from sources like dark leafy greens, wholegrains and legumes. Pairing these with foods rich in vitamin C, like berries, broccoli and tomatoes, can boost absorption.
Take iron supplements prescribed by your doctor.
Reduce your consumption of foods that leach the body of iron, including tea, coffee, milk and wholegrain cereals containing phytic acid.
Ensure you visit your doctor if you’re suffering from any of the above symptoms, as they can find out whether or not you’re iron deficient and the possible causes.