Iron Deficiency is a common occurrence among many mothers especially when they start on any weight loss journey. Due to increased needs during pregnancy and breast feeding as well as blood loss after child birth. Add in bad diet or lack of food and our existing iron stores become severely depleted.
Iron is an essential mineral that we need everyday, it is involved in various functions throughout the body including transporting blood around the body (kind of important). When you deplete the iron stored in your body, you start to experience feelings of tiredness, fatigue and decreased immune response (get sick easier).
Because of this it is very important that you keep your iron stores as full as possible and at times may require a supplement. However too much iron is actually toxic for you and can result in death.
Before starting any iron supplements it is important to have your doctor check you iron levels.
What are the causes of iron deficiency
- Inadequate dietary intake – There are two different types of dietary iron, Haem Iron (from animals) and Non-haem iron (vegetable iron) . Haem iron from animals is much easier to absorb than non-haem iron. Thus people who do not eat a wise variety of foods or have recently done lots of fad diets, or eat mainly packaged foods may not be getting enough iron.
- Menstruating women who have very heavy menstruation.
- Pregnant and lactating women as your iron requirements are higher during these stages.
- Female athlete or if you do a lot of intense exercise, as regular exercise increases red blood cell production, thus requiring more iron to transport it around the body, however the body sweats out iron.
- Teenage Girl – due to growth spurts. Within the period of sexual maturity and growth for a teenage girl, her requirements for Iron increase.
- Recently lost high amounts of blood due to an operation or child birth
- Regular blood donations
- Chronic regular bloody noses
- Chronic Disorders that involve bleeding – such as a peptic ulcer, polyps, or cancers of the large intestine.
- Inability to absorb iron from dietary sources, Most adults take 10%-15% of their daily iron needs from their diet however some people are unable to absorb iron from food sources.
Iron is stored mainly within the haemoglobin within the red blood cells, for carrying oxygen around the body. Any excess iron is stored within the liver. If you don’t replace the iron you are using , your stores will start to decrease and you will go through the following stages.
- Iron Depletion – This has no symptoms generally, it’s just where your stores are slowly deleted over time
- Iron Deficiency – The stored iron and iron is your blood is low and haemoglobin levels are low. at this stage you amy start to experience tiredness and fatigue.
- Iron Deficiency Anaemia – your Haemoglobin levels are so low that the blood cannot get enough oxygen to the cells that need it. At this stage symptoms can be very obvious such as very pale, breathlessness, dizziness and fatigue.
After you have had your Iron levels checked by a doctor. They will then try and determine why you are deficient and set a plan to increase your iron levels from there.
- Look for under lying problems – Is there medical conditions such as stomach and intestine related cancers, Irital bowel Syndrome ( IBS) , Ulcers , polyps. Take high amounts of aspirin due to heart conditions and certain medications.
- For iron depletion – they recommend a change in diet and an increase in iron rich foods. doctor will re-test at 6 mths to see if any improvement.
- For Iron Deficiency – again advice on diet is given, also more regular blood tests to see if it is improving. If not then you may be advised to take an iron supplement
- For Iron Deficiency Anaemia – Iron supplements are prescribed and very regular checking is conducted. it can take between 6-12 mths to re-stock your iron stores.
DO NOT SELF-DIAGNOSE IRON DEFICIENCY
There are many medical conditions that display the same symptoms as iron deficiency
- Gall Stones – pale skin, tiredness
- Thyroid conditions – tiredness, fatigue
- PCOS – tiredness, fatigue
Just to name a few, but by having a doctor conduct a simple blood test and doing some further investigation, you will be able to find out exactly what is wrong.
Besides the possibility of wasting time and money on unnecessary iron supplements if you self-diagnose, you could also be putting yourself at further risk due to Iron being toxic when you take too much. Too much Iron has been linked to increased risk of heart disease and cancers and in high doses is known to be fatal. It can also stop the intake of other vitamin and minerals that your body needs.
Foods high in Dietary iron are:
- Wholegrain cereals, meat, poultry and fish.
- Iron Fortified breakfast cereals
- Dark green leafy veggies eg. broccoli, kale, prunes, dried apricots, raisins, nuts, seeds, dried beans and peas,
Liver is especially rich but should be avoided by pregnant women due to high vitamin A.
It it also advisable to eat foods high in vitamin C as this helps with absorption of dietary iron. Try and avoid coffee and tea when eating iron rich food as the tannins in coffee and tea bind with the iron and stop absorption.
If you suspect iron deficiency then I strongly advise you pop yourself down to the doctor to have a simple blood test conducted to confirm, and alleviate any questions you may have.
If you need help with your diet to ensure you are getting enough dietary iron, then I would suggest starting with either the 28 day plan or sign up for the next 28 day weight loss challenge and see just how delicious good food can taste.