By Betty Murray
Iron is a mineral used by the body to perform numerous functions. As part of the protein hemoglobin, iron is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. The muscles also use iron to store oxygen. Additionally, iron is part of enzymes used in various cell functions throughout the body, such as digestion.
Because your body relies on iron for so many different functions, too little iron can be a detriment to your body in a number of ways. According to the CDC, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and is the leading cause of anemia in the United States.
Symptoms of iron deficiency
If you aren’t getting enough iron in your diet, you may notice symptoms of iron deficiency anemia, such as:
- Feeling tired and weak
- Difficulty maintaining body temperature
- Decreased immune function
- Inflamed tongue (glossitis)
- Heavy periods
- Pale and “sickly” in color
- Easily get short of breath
- Restless leg syndrome
- Pica (craving non-food substances such as dirt and ice)
- Hair loss
Treatment and prevention of iron deficiency
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with your physician. If your doctor finds you have an iron deficiency, he or she may prescribe iron supplements and/or an iron-rich diet to treat your deficiency.
Iron deficiency leading to anemia is often (though not always) diet-related. Examples of healthy, iron-rich foods include: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat free or nonfat milk and milk products, lean meats, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts.
Recommended dietary allowance for iron
The recommended dietary allowance for iron varies by age and gender. Women ages 19 to 50 should get 18mg/day of iron. In general, women require more iron than men. Women between 51-70 should get 8mg/day and women over age 70 need less than 8mg/day. If you are pregnant or nursing, your iron needs change. Pregnant women should get about 27mg/day, whereas lactating women need just about 9mg/day. Men ages 19 and older need just 8mg/day.
Learn more information on iron and iron deficiency at cdc.gov.
Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.