Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiencies experienced by Aussies, especially women, but remains one of the most significantly under-diagnosed.
When it comes to our bodies, iron plays an important role in producing red blood cells, heart health, immune function, energy levels, and healthy brain function, but 34 per cent of women of childbearing age are currently living with depleted iron levels, compared to just 5 per cent of Australian men.
"Having low iron levels can have a significant impact on how our bodies produce energy and regulate our immune system, which could lead to other conditions like fatigue, decreased immunity and anaemia," Andria Aird, Pharmacist-owner at Blooms The Chemist, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
"Low iron levels can occur due to a number of different reasons, from low dietary intakes to blood loss and poor absorption.
"With more Aussies reducing their meat intake, looking at alternatives to boost your iron may help build up your levels. A heavy menstrual period can also contribute to greater blood loss and the reduction of our bodies’ iron stores."
Particularly through lockdown where it is so common to feel lethargic, unmotivated and constantly tired, it can be difficult to pinpoint if one is actually suffering from iron deficiency. But given how many women are being impacted by the effects of low iron, Andria and Blooms are encouraging all women to have their iron levels screened regularly.
"Throughout every stage of our life, our iron needs differ. For women aged between 19 and 50, the recommended daily intake of iron to help sustain your levels is 18mg. For men aged 19 and over and women over the age of 51, this need is reduced greatly to only 8mg," Andrea explains.
"Having your iron levels screened is a quick and easy process, which will help you to better understand your total iron levels and get you on the right treatment path. You can visit your GP or local chemist to be tested. It only takes about a minute to complete!
Andria stresses that it's so important to take the time to have your iron levels screened more regularly, especially if you are experiencing symptoms.
"With our busy lives divided between work, friends and family commitments, we often forget to pause and make sure we are looking after our own health. It is something so simple and quick to do, which can really make a difference to your overall health and wellness."
Common Symptoms of an Iron Deficiency
Because the symptoms can just look like you're run down from your busy life, they often go undetected for long periods.
Symptoms of iron deficiency often vary and can be obscure and subtle, which is why recognising them is often the biggest hurdle to getting a diagnosis. Some of the most common indicators that you're potentially iron-deficient include:
Weakness or dizziness
Fatigue, exhaustion, and lack of energy
Shortness of breath
Difficulty doing high-intensity exercise
Pale skin or cracked skin around the mouth
Restless leg syndrome
Health and fitness guru and new mum Lauren Hannaford suffered iron deficiency during her recent pregnancy and says: "I heard that once you get to the second trimester of your pregnancy you will feel like you have a lot more energy. I however found that I went the other way and was feeling really tired and drained all the time."
"I had never felt that kind of fatigue before and didn’t know that it could be from low iron. Now I fully understand the importance of making sure that my iron level is stable at all times," she adds.
Three ways to boost your iron intake
Thankfully if you do find out you are low in iron, there are a few things you can do to help boost your Iron intake. Accredited Dietitian and Exercise Physiologist, Kate Saver, who is also the Co-Founder of Be Fit Food, takes us through a few methods you can look at:
"Often, an iron-rich diet is the key to restoring your strong and savvy healthy body. However, it's important to remember that not all foods that contain iron are created equal.
There are two types of iron: haem iron - found in flesh foods, such as red meat, chicken, and fish, and non-haem iron - found in plant foods.
Haem iron is absorbed four to five times more efficiently than non-haem iron, but the absorption of non-haem iron is three times greater when consumed alongside foods containing vitamin C. So, to get the most out of your non-haem iron sources, being vegetarian foods — pair them with foods such as citrus fruits, berries, capsicums, broccoli, and leafy greens, all loaded with Vitamin C for that added absorption."
"A great option to compliment a balanced diet is to incorporate an iron supplement into your daily routine.
Depending on the cause of your iron deficiency, a supplement might be recommended by your health care professional.
Just like the high iron meals you choose to eat that need the powerful duo of Vitamin C for optimal absorption, so too will your supplements. Given we know that Iron and Vitamin C work so well together, looking at a supplement that provides both is a smart move, something like Ferrogen Iron + Vitamin C.
"This may sound strange – but hear me out. If you are low in iron stores, you can strategically time when to eat your high iron meals. Doing so will help with optimal absorption and assist your body to get the most of the iron.
A good way to start this is to eat your high iron meals outside of the times you're planning on exercising.
For example, if you are more active at night, opt for a high iron breakfast like oats topped with berries, hemp seeds, and cacao nibs. If you're a morning person and prefer to get out of the house early, choose a high iron dinner rich with root vegetables, grilled steak, or lentils.
Exercise stimulates the release of a hormone that signals your body to reduce iron absorption. So by choosing to eat your high iron meals three or so hours from when you plan to training and bulking up your plate with foods high in Vitamin C, you can feel confident your body is absorbing all of that iron goodness."
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