Iron is the most common metallic element in the universe and the third most common element making up all of the earth. It’s also an essential element for living organisms, as it is a key component of haemoglobin – the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.
Iron is also involved in many other biological processes, including the synthesis of DNA and the production of energy in cells.
Why is Iron Important for Your Health?
Iron plays a crucial role in the body as a component of haemoglobin – without enough iron, the body is unable to produce enough haemoglobin and decreases the number of red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. Low iron levels can lead to a condition called anaemia.
Low iron levels can cause symptoms including fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and dizziness, pale skin and concentration difficulties.
Additionally, iron is important for proper immune system function, as the mineral is involved in the production of white blood cells that help to fight infections in the body.
Are You Getting Enough Iron?
Keeping track of diet can help determine whether or not iron intake is sufficient. Iron is found in a variety of foods including red meat, poultry, fish, beans, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, tofu, lentils and fortified cereals.
Some individuals including women with heavy menstrual periods, pregnant women, young growing and active children and people following restrictive diets such as vegetarians and vegans may be at risk of not getting enough iron through diet and may need to consider taking iron supplements or incorporating iron-fortified foods into their diet.
The recommended daily intake of iron is 8mg per day for men and postmenopausal women, while menstruating women require 8mg iron per day, and pregnant women require 27mg daily.
Checking the nutrition labels of food that is consumed can help with determining iron intake. Using a diet planning app such as Cronometer or MyFitnessPal is another option for tracking nutrient intake over time.
It is a good idea to have a conversation with your doctor if you think that you are not getting enough iron, or if you have any concerns about your iron intake. They can perform tests and provide advice to ensure you are getting enough iron.
What is Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency occurs when there is not enough iron in the body to support its various functions.
Deficiency can occur due to:
- inadequate daily intake of the mineral over time
- poor absorption of dietary iron in the body
- increased demand for iron such as during pregnancy or children’s growth and development
- blood loss due to heavy menstrual periods, injury or medical condition
Iron deficiency can be diagnosed by a doctor by performing blood tests that measure levels of haemoglobin, ferritin (a protein that stores iron), and iron in the blood.
Treatment of iron deficiency typically involves the use of iron supplements and dietary changes in order to increase iron intake.
What Are the Three Stages of Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency can progress through three stages:
Iron depletion: during the first stage of iron deficiency, the body is beginning to run low on iron. There are generally no obvious signs of iron deficiency during this stage.
Iron deficiency: during the second stage of iron deficiency, the body iron levels become very low, and the body is unable to create enough haemoglobin and drop below normal levels. Symptoms such as fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath may begin to appear.
Iron deficiency anaemia: the third stage of iron deficiency is anaemia where the body’s iron stores have become so low that there is not enough iron to produce haemoglobin to deliver enough oxygen around the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, headaches, and dizziness.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or think you may be iron deficient, talk to your doctor in order to determine the cause and an appropriate treatment plan.
Does Iron Deficiency Make You Dizzy?
Yes, iron deficiency can make you feel dizzy. Dizziness is a common symptom of iron deficiency anaemia.
When the body does not have enough iron to produce adequate haemoglobin to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues, the brain may be getting an insufficient oxygen supply, which can cause dizziness, light-headedness and a feeling of faintness.
As well as dizziness, weakness and fatigue, iron deficiency anaemia can cause symptoms including shortness of breath, pale skin, headaches, and irritability. It is important that you speak to your doctor about these symptoms to determine the cause, provide a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Iron Sulfate and Absorption
Iron sulfate is a form of iron used in iron supplements that is known to be well absorbed by the body.
The absorption of iron from iron sulfate supplements can be influenced by a number of factors including:
Calcium: it is best to avoid taking iron supplements at the same time as calcium or calcium rich foods, as the minerals may interfere with the absorption of one another.
Phytates: compounds known as phytates that are present in some plant foods can bind to iron and hinder its absorption in the body. Consuming iron sulfate supplements with meals that contain low levels of phytates may help to enhance absorption.
Vitamin C: consuming vitamin C supplements or foods that are rich in vitamin C may help to enhance the absorption of iron from iron sulfate supplements.
Antacids: taking antacids can reduce the acidity of the stomach, which can decrease the absorption of iron from iron sulfate supplements. Take antacids at least two hours after taking iron supplements in order to maximise absorption.
Talking to Your Doctor About Iron Deficiency
If you are experiencing any of the common symptoms of iron deficiency, particularly if they are persistent or severe, it is important to talk to your doctor in order to determine the cause and an appropriate treatment plan.
Iron supplementation should be undertaken in consultation with a health professional, as over consumption of iron can cause additional symptoms including nausea and constipation and can be harmful.
Always read the label and follow the directions for use.