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All About Iron: Deficiency, Anemia, and Sensitive Groups

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Energy, Functional Medicine, Kids, supplements

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Approximately 5 million people in the US are iron deficient, making it the most common nutritional deficiency in the country.  

So, what do we do? 

Iron is an integral nutrient that transports blood and oxygen through our systems, so yes, deficiency is serious—but it’s also curable. 

Diet, age, and sex play a significant role in whether we’re susceptible to iron deficiency; but lifestyle, diet, and supplement adjustments can be the key for solving this problem. 

Why Iron is Essential for Health 

Iron plays an indispensable role in helping blood and oxygen circulate through our body and reach our muscles.  

Iron works with our body to make two proteins: hemoglobin and myoglobin. Hemoglobin is a red blood cell protein for transporting oxygen to our whole body, and myoglobin transports oxygen to our muscles.  

This oxygen movement is necessary for development, body temperature, energy levels, and immunity.  

Iron Deficiency vs. Anemia 

Our body is always protecting us from damage, which is why we store iron in our spleen, bone marrow, liver, and muscles for backup. Even if we’re technically low on iron, our bodies reorganize and manage the storage as long as possible. This is called iron deficiency. 

However, there may come a point when our body needs more iron because the tank is empty, and now it doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to organs. When this happens, it’s called iron deficiency anemia (IDA). 

It is a common misconception that anemia and low iron are interchangeable, but that’s not true. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, but anemia does not necessarily equate to iron deficiency. 

Signs of Iron Deficiency 

Most individuals do not experience iron deficiency signs until they develop IDA, but it is still possible to experience symptoms without progressing to anemia. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Weakness 
  • Tiredness 
  • Lack of energy 
  • Concentration or memory problems 
  • GI disturbance 
  • Difficulty fighting off germs or infections 
  • Cannot control body temperature 
  • Low mood 

These symptoms may seep into other aspects of life like decreased sex drive, depression, or social withdrawal.  

Groups Most Susceptible to IDA 

Certain populations are more susceptible to iron deficiency, including: 

  • Pregnant women 
  • Menstruating women 
  • Children 
  • Vegans and vegetarians 

Menstruating Women and Iron Deficiency 

Since menstruating women lose blood every month—especially women with heavy flows—they are also losing iron. On top of that, women need more than twice the amount of iron per day compared to men: 18mg for women versus 8mg for men. 

Pregnant Women and Iron Deficiency 

Women are already susceptible to iron deficiency, so now add another human into the mix! 

Not only do pregnant women have to consume enough iron to support a fetus and themselves, but previous iron deficiency from menstruating could stack the odds against them even further. 

Iron deficiency during pregnancy can have harmful effects on a baby like premature birth, low birth weight, and anemia. 

Plant Based Diets and Iron Deficiency 

There are two types of iron: heme iron and non heme iron. Heme iron comes from animal proteins, and non-heme originates from plant AND animal proteins.  

Therefore, vegans or vegetarians are at a natural disadvantage because they receive only non-heme iron, which is less absorbable than heme iron. 

Children and Iron Deficiency 

Have you ever tried to feed a child spinach? It’s not an easy task. 

All jokes aside, this is a reason young children have iron deficiencies. Many iron-rich foods are often avoided by children, either due to picky eating habits or small appetite. Additionally, many children drink cow’s milk, which can slow down iron absorption. 

Children cannot describe symptoms as well as adults can, but, IDA has long-term effects for children like disruption to psychological development, social withdrawal, and trouble concentrating. It is important for parents to keep a close eye on their child’s iron and cow’s milk consumption. 

How to Increase Your Iron Intake 

Fortunately, there are numerous ways to increase your iron intake through diet or supplements.  

Diet 

Animal heme products: 

  • Lean meat 
  • Seafood 
  • Poultry 

Plant-based non-heme products: 

  • Spinach 
  • Peas 
  • White beans 
  • Lentils 
  • Kidney beans 
  • Nuts 
  • Dried fruits 

Non-heme iron is best absorbed with meat and vitamin C (citrus, strawberries, sweet peppers, tomato, broccoli). 

 

How to Increase Iron Intake with Supplements 

Iron supplements are an effective way for increasing iron intake. However, do not take iron supplements and change your diet at the same time unless instructed by a doctor.  

Excessive iron can be harmful, so it’s essential to consult your doctor with any concerns.  

Best Iron Supplement for Iron Deficiency Anemia 

https://shop.aliveandwell.health/products/designs-for-health-ferrochel-iron-chelate?_pos=1&_sid=23fd47edb&_ss=r 

 This potent iron supplement is ideal for iron deficiency anemia by delivering 27mg of iron into the body. It is safe for any individual struggling with IDA, including those on a plant-based diet. 

Best Iron Supplement for Women 

https://shop.aliveandwell.health/products/wellness-essentials-women?_pos=1&_sid=85032b9a2&_ss=r 

This Wellness Essentials supplement provides iron and over 20 other necessary nutrients. It’s also enhanced by a proprietary blend of concentrated extracts and phytonutrients.  


Best Iron Supplement for Pregnancy
 

This Basic Prenatal supplement includes enough iron to meet pregnancy needs, plus other baby development supports such as folate and choline. This supplement also includes vitamin C, B6, and K for morning sickness.  

 

Best Iron Supplement for Plant-Based Diets 

https://shop.aliveandwell.health/products/innate-iron-response-tablets?_pos=1&_sid=b13d2abf2&_ss=r 

This gentle iron supplement is clinically proven to increase iron levels without naseaua or constipation. Iron Response is especially good for plant-based diets because it includes folic acid and B12—other vitamins that vegans and vegetarians are often deficient in. 

Best Iron Supplement for Children 

https://shop.aliveandwell.health/products/pure-encapsulations-iron-liquid?_pos=1&_sid=31d95ec7b&_ss=r 

This tasty iron liquid is perfect for children. Not only does it supply them with iron, but it also includes a blend of cranberry and blueberry fruit extracts for antioxidant protection and microvascular support! 

Iron Supplement FAQ 

Can Iron Supplements Cause Constipation? 

Some iron supplements may cause constipation, but not all. Our recommended supplements are gentle enough that most individuals do not experience GI problems. 

If your supplement is causing constipation, try eating fiber, drinking plenty of water, and incorporating exercise into your lifestyle. 

Do Iron Pills Make You Gain Weight? 

Not necessarily. If you do gain weight on iron pills, it is likely because of a newfound appetite from having more energy. It is best to consult with your practitioner about this concern. 

Can Iron Supplements Cause Black Stools? 

Yes. Iron supplements may cause a change in your stool color. The color is mostly not for concern but keep an eye out for abnormalities otherwise. 

 

 

 

 https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/ 

https://www.verywellhealth.com/iron-deficiency-anemia-5547744 

 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/do-iron-supplements-cause-constipation#contacting-a-doctor 

 

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