Iron is important in the health and wellbeing of ererybody but is of particular relevance to those still growing. Iron is an important dietary mineral that is involved in various bodily functions, including the transport of oxygen in the blood. This is essential in providing energy for daily life. Iron deficiency means less oxygen is delivered to the cells. This can lead to fatigue, tiredness and decreased immunity.
Babies, toddlers, preschoolers and teenagers are at higher risk of iron deficiency, because their increased needs for iron may not be met if their diet is not balanced. Treatment for iron deficiency anaemia in children starts with dietary change but may include iron supplements (under medical supervision only). Iron supplements are toxic in large doses, so keep supplements out of reach of children.
Some of the common causes of iron deficiency in adults include:
* Inadequate dietary intake – the two types of iron include haem iron (found in animal foods) and non-haem iron (from plant products). The body absorbs haem iron much more easily than non-haem iron. There are many reasons why the dietary intake of iron could be inadequate, including a poorly balanced vegetarian diet, chronic fad dieting or limited access to a wide range of fresh foods – for example, as a result of living in remote areas or having a low income.
* Blood loss – iron deficiency easily occurs in situations of chronic blood loss. Common causes include heavy menstrual periods, regular blood donation, chronic disorders that involve bleeding (such as peptic ulcers, polyps or cancers in the large intestine) and certain medications, particularly aspirin.
* Increased need – the adolescent growth spurt, pregnancy and breastfeeding are situations when the body requires more iron. If this increased need isn’t met, a deficiency can quickly occur.
* Exercise – athletes are prone to iron deficiency because regular exercise increases the body’s need for iron in a number of ways; for example, hard training promotes red blood cell production, while iron is lost through sweating.
* Inability to absorb iron – healthy adults absorb about ten to 15 per cent of dietary iron but some people’s bodies are unable to absorb or use iron from food.
Taking iron supplements when you feel tired and run down will not help unless you have actually been diagnosed with iron deficiency. There may be another cause for your symptoms. Since iron supplements are available over the counter, it can be tempting to self-diagnose but this would be a mistake for many reasons.
It is recommended that all pregnant women be tested for iron deficiency.
If you have any of the symptoms of iron deficiency your Doctor will probably do iron studies as part of their work up of your problem.