Pumping your iron

Getting the facts on iron.

Iron is a mineral that our bodies need to function, according to Michigan State University Extension. Iron helps transport oxygen from our lungs to all parts of our body as part of the hemoglobin protein. If you do not have enough hemoglobin you will develop anemia. Iron deficiency can lead to numerous problems, including delay of normal infant motor functions and an increased risk of preterm delivery. Iron deficiency can also lead to increased fatigue in adults and issues with memory and mental function in teens.

Iron needs vary throughout the population. There are certain groups that have increased iron needs. Infants and toddlers, who are growing very quickly, require more iron than older children. Pregnant women also have increased iron needs due to the increase in blood volume experienced by pregnant women. Another group at risk for iron deficiency is people who have lost blood, through menstrual periods, frequent blood donations or intestinal bleeding.

The amount of iron your body absorbs depends on many factors. Iron from animal sources such as meat which is called heme iron is absorbed two to three times more efficiently than iron from plants or non heme sources. When heme iron is consumed with non-heme iron sources there is an increase in absorption. Consuming foods that are high in vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron. Other foods and medications can also hinder the absorption of iron.  

Iron deficiency symptoms often don’t appear until anemia occurs.  Some of these symptoms include feeling excessively tired and weak. A person who is iron deficient might have decreased work or school performance. Children, who are iron deficient, may have slow cognitive and social development. Both children and adults with iron deficiency can have a difficulty maintaining body temperature as well as a decrease in immune function.

If you discover that you are iron deficient, it is important to work with your health care provider to develop a plan. Depending on your levels of iron in your body it may be necessary to take supplements and increase the amount of iron in your diet. Including lean meats, fish and other sources of iron in your diet are important steps to take to reduce your deficiency. Consuming foods rich in vitamin C will help your body better absorb the iron you consume.

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