Iron deficiency – are you getting enough? - HealthPost NZ

Iron. Are you getting enough?

Iron deficiency is the most common dietary deficiency in the world today and NZ is no exception.

Iron deficiency in New Zealand’s women more than doubled over the past 12 years with an estimated 20% of women now iron deficient.  Approx. 3% of NZ men fall in to the same category.   Women are at risk due to loss of iron through menstruation and pregnancy.  New Zealand kids are also at risk with an estimated 25% of children under the age of three having some degree of iron deficiency.  Children need iron for growth spurts and their stores can be depleted from sweat through high activity and frequent bruising.

Iron is a mineral that is essential to many key functions in the body.  Once absorbed from our food, it is utilised for the synthesis of haemoglobin found in our red blood cells and responsible for transporting oxygen around our body, thus is very important for energy.  Iron is also utilised for many hormone production pathways and is essential for a healthy immune system.

Iron deficiency, when your iron stores are low, if left untreated may progress to anaemia where your red blood cells have inadequate iron to produce haemoglobin.

Typical symptoms experienced by those low in iron are:

  1. Feeling fatigued
  2. Brain drain and poor concentration
  3. Frequent infections due to a weakened immune system
  4. Decreased endurance and poor tolerance to exercise
  5. Dry, brittle hair and nails

Your doctor can do a simple pathology test to check both your iron stores and your haemoglobin levels to see if you are deficient and if treatment is needed.

Why are so many of us low in iron?

Iron is generally very poorly absorbed from the food we eat. There are many different types of iron, primarily found in green leafy vegetables, legumes and red meat.  Approx.  5-10% of the iron in vegetables is absorbed into our blood, whereas 15-20% is absorbed from red meat, hence why red meat is recommend for those low in iron.  Below is the recommend daily intake of iron from our food and how that equates to the amount of iron we actually need to absorb each day.

Absorbed Iron needed daily RDI of Iron from food
Women 1.5 – 2mg 18mg
Pregnant Women 4mg – 7mg 27mg+
Men, Kids, Post-menopausal women 0.5mg – 1.5mg 9mg

Examples of quantity of iron from foods and what ends up absorbed:

100mg Lean red meat = 3.3mg of iron  = 0.6mg iron absorbed

1 cup of cooked Spinach  = 3mg of iron  = 0.3mg iron absorbed.

Iron supplementation is recommend if you have a blood test that shows your iron is low, as it can be challenging to restore levels by increasing intake in your diet alone.   Most at risk are pregnant women, vegetarians, teenagers, sports people and the elderly.  The benefits of treatment are well researched as many people will attest to feeling more energised and better concentration.

There are many different types of supplements on the market, all have different levels of absorption and efficacy, so it’s important to get some advice and do your research.  Supplements containing high doses of ferrous sulphate may be effective at restoring iron levels but come with a high incidence of gastric intestinal side effects like constipation.  The addition of Vitamin C will help improve the absorption of some forms of iron, but is not necessary if the iron is already in its elemental form.  Alternative natural forms of iron offer higher absorption rates than foods and ferrous sulphate, but be sure to choose a product that has proven clinical research to assure its efficacy.

Iron competes with some other nutrients for absorption, so ensure you take your iron supplement on an empty stomach half an hour before food, coffee, tea or other medications.  Generally most people need to continue iron therapy for 6-8 weeks to restore levels, with re-testing essential to ensure you don’t continue unnecessarily.

By Diane Mitchelmore, Bachelor of Science majoring in Nutritional Biochemistry and Immunology

Martin & Pleasance

Spatone is a 100% natural liquid iron supplement that is very easily absorbed by the body. It is available  for secure order from our online shop.

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