Iron is an essential element for almost all living organisms, including humans. Without enough iron, we cannot make hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron is essential for delivering oxygen to all of our tissues and cells so that they can produce energy. It plays a role in our antioxidant systems, and is necessary for the cytochrome enzymes in our liver to be able to process drugs, caffeine, and hormones.
Types of Iron
Iron is an essential mineral to consume through our diet. The body cannot produce its own iron, so we must supply our bodies with iron from the foods that we eat. There are two types of iron:
- Heme iron: Animal-based iron sources that are easily absorbed by the body. This type of iron is found in foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, and oysters.
- Non-heme iron: Plant sources of iron that are ideal for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, and typically have slightly lower levels of iron content per serving. This type of iron is naturally found in foods such as cereals, pumpkin, brown rice, lentils, mushrooms, spinach, quinoa, and legumes. Most people generally obtain around 65% of their iron requirement from non-heme, plant-based sources.
What Is Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency occurs when the body's need for iron is not met over a long period of time. Such an imbalance can arise, for example, if too little iron is absorbed through food or if the requirement increases, for instance due to pregnancy. Another reason can be poor iron transfer from the intestine to the blood. For example, inflammation can reduce absorption. Thus, the iron does not arrive in the body where it is needed.
Signs of Iron Deficiency
As detailed above, iron plays an important role in our overall health and well-being. If your body doesn’t contain enough of the mineral iron, what are symptoms you should be looking for?
Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency*:
- Low energy during menstrual cycle
- Pale, dry skin and mucous membranes
- Cracked corners of the mouth
- Brittle nails and hair, including hair loss
- Decreased memory, attention, and learning performance
Who Is Most at Risk for Iron Deficiency?
Menstruation, the cyclical loss of blood, can take a toll on the body’s iron supply over time, as nearly two-thirds of the body’s iron is bound to red blood cells. During menstruation, blood loss averages 30mL, which includes almost 15 mg of iron. Because the body cannot produce iron on its own, women must compensate for this loss of iron through food. To ensure balanced iron, menstruating women should consume approximately 15 mg of iron daily through meals or supplementation.
During pregnancy, your body needs nearly twice the usual amount of iron, and many physicians may prescribe iron supplements in addition to a prenatal vitamin.
Vegetarians and vegans
Without animal-based, heme iron in your diet, your body is dependent upon non-heme, plant-based iron that is not absorbed as well. Some studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans have a higher prevalence of iron deficiency anemia than their non-vegetarian counterparts. While it’s certainly possible to provide your body with all the iron needed from your diet, you should work with your doctor to monitor your iron levels to identify if you may benefit from adding a vegan or vegetarian iron supplement to your regimen.
Women and men over 50 years of age
Iron deficiency becomes even more common as we get older. Signs of low iron (fatigue, sleeplessness, dizziness, and decreased cognitive function) can exacerbate existing conditions, particularly cardiac conditions. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important for you and your doctor to monitor your iron levels to make sure you are not experiencing low iron levels.
Exercise can inhibit the body's ability to absorb iron. New research has shown that up to 35 percent of female athletes are iron deficient—compared to about five percent in the general population. Around 11 percent of male athletes are affected by low iron levels, as compared to one percent of the general population.
Advantages of Iron Supplements
Iron supplements can be used to help reverse low iron levels or treat iron deficiency anemia. Iron supplements are particularly helpful for people that struggle to get adequate amounts of iron through their diet alone.
Floradix® iron supplements include the best-selling natural liquid iron supplement in the US today, Floradix® Iron + Herbs.† They may help people experiencing iron deficiency, as they have been reported to support the formation of healthy red blood cells.* Floradix iron supplements have been trusted by customers for decades, as they are gentle to digest and easily absorbed—conventional iron supplements often are not. Floradix iron supplements also offer these additional benefits:
- Free of artificial additives, synthetic preservatives, alcohol, and lactose
- Kosher, non-GMO, and vegetarian
- Environmentally friendly packaging
- Available in multiple formats to fit your lifestyle, including liquids, tablets, and a vegan, yeast-free, and gluten-free formula
Iron Supplement Precautions
If you think you have low iron or may be at risk of low iron, we recommend talking to your doctor before you add an iron supplement to your daily regimen. Your doctor may recommend that you have your iron levels tested via blood testing. This testing can verify if you are in fact deficient and in need of supplementation, and if so, the appropriate dose of iron you should be taking in supplement form to help return your iron levels to a healthy range.*
- Hallberg, L. et al: Constancy of individual menstrual blood loss, in: Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand (1964).
- Marc Sim et al. Iron considerations for the athlete: a narrative review, European Journal of Applied Physiology (2019). DOI: 10.1007/s00421-019-04157-y
† SPINS Vitamins & Minerals Iron: Natural Channel 13 Quads End 2020-Dec-27