If you are in a risk group for the occurrence of iron deficiency and you reach for supplementation, you need to choose an iron-based dietary supplement that you will easily apply and achieve the best effect

Iron deficiency does not necessarily mean anemia

Iron is a micronutrient found in numerous food, among which meat is the most important source. It is found in food in the form of Fe3+ ions, and in the acidic environment of the stomach, it is reduced to the Fe2+ form, which is later absorbed in the intestines. In a speech, the term iron deficiency and anemia are often confused. Iron deficiency, despite the development of characteristic symptoms such as fatigue, reduced concentration, and increased need for sleep, does not necessarily mean the development of anemia and is most often the result of an unbalanced diet. However, long-term iron deficiency can lead to anemia.

Anemia Illustration
Anemia Illustration

It is estimated that a third of the world’s population suffers from some type of anemia. One of the most significant factors for the development of anemia is malnutrition, i.e. lack of certain nutrients, among which the most common are iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid (vitamin B9). Therefore, it should not be surprising that this risk factor is more prevalent in countries with a lower level of development. Iron deficiency anemia, or sideropenic anemia, is one of the most common, but also among the easiest to treat, types of anemia – it is thought to cause as much as half of all cases of anemia. It most often occurs in periods in life when the need for iron intake is increased – during rapid growth and development (children), pregnancy and puberty.
When supplementing, it is necessary to choose an iron-based dietary supplement that will achieve the best effect without accompanying side effects, especially from the digestive system.

Iron from food

We find iron in food in two forms – heme and non-heme iron.

Heme iron is associated with foods of animal origin and is generally characterized by easier absorption.

Example of food of animal origin rich in iron:

  • oysters
  • beef
  • lamb
  • mussels
  • wild game
  • sardines.
  • soy
  • lentils
  • spinach
  • tofu and seitan
  • chickpeas
  • peas
  • beans
  • broccoli
  • kale
  • plums.

It is important to emphasize that food of animal origin is not a source of pure heme iron. According to estimates, the share of heme iron from such sources is 40 to 45 percent, while the rest is in non-heme form.

What causes iron deficiency?

There are two main causes of iron deficiency in the body: excessive blood loss (menstruation and internal bleeding) and inadequate absorption of iron from the digestive system.

Conducted studies have shown that a significant proportion of women have reduced iron reserves in the body. Women are at a higher risk of iron deficiency than men due to menstruation, which loss of approximately 35 mL of blood per month. Therefore, women, especially those with heavy periods, need more iron intake through food. In addition to menstruation, pregnancy also causes an increased need for iron.

Helicobacter pylori infection also contributes to iron deficiency in several ways. In addition to causing stomach ulcers (which can cause blood loss), it also reduces the acidity of stomach contents. Reduced stomach acidity reduces the ability to convert Fe3+ into Fe2+, and thus the absorption of iron in the bowels.

How do I know I’m iron deficient?

The most common symptom of iron deficiency is fatigue. Given that iron is part of the metalloprotein hemoglobin, whose function is to transport oxygen to all tissues in the body, it should not be surprising that its deficiency, with the consequent reduction in oxygen supply, is the cause of fatigue.

Another specific symptom of iron deficiency is intolerance to cold weather, which is associated with the influence of reduced iron reserves in the body on thyroid hormones.

Restless leg syndrome is an unpleasant feeling in the legs that manifests itself in such a way that a person needs to move their legs, especially during the night. Most people with this syndrome have reduced iron reserves in the body.

Increased hair loss has been reported in some women with iron deficiency.

Am I a risk group?

As already mentioned, the risk groups for iron deficiency include women and people infected with Helicobacter pylori bacteria.

Absorption of iron is reduced in obese people, athletes, but also recreationists, and it is assumed that the cause of this condition is an inflammatory reaction. In addition, intense muscle contractions in athletes contribute to hemolysis, thereby increasing urinary iron excretion. Conducted studies show that between 10 and 38 percent of female athletes face the problem of iron deficiency, and that iron deficiency also depends on the seasons of training.

Inflammatory bowel diseases are also one of the risk factors contributing to reduced iron absorption. People who often use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as acetylsalicylic acid and ibuprofen) are at increased risk of developing a gastrointestinal ulcer and, therefore, loss of blood and iron.

Since the diet of vegetarians and vegans is based on products of plant origin, there is no intake of heme iron from meat. Therefore, it is recommended that these groups use iron-based supplements in order to prevent their deficiency in the body.

The student population, due to the great challenges that are placed before them, can experience a feeling of fatigue and exhaustion. Iron supplementation could serve as a good form of energy deficiency prevention.

Better safe than sorry

The basis of sufficient iron intake is an even and balanced diet. However, as the modern way of life often represents an obstacle to such a diet, many people reach for food supplements as quality sources of micronutrients. In order to achieve a sufficient intake of iron, but also to prevent potential side effects of iron supplementation, it is necessary to avoid certain foods and drinks and to increase the intake of other nutrients in addition to iron itself.

Increase in iron absorption

When supplementing with iron, it is necessary to avoid taking coffee, tea, milk, dairy products, and antacids (medicines to neutralize excess stomach acid) at the same time, because they interfere with the absorption of iron. On the other hand, there are certain compounds that stimulate the absorption of non-heme iron – it is vitamin C that forms a complex with an iron ion.

Probiotic and iron

A large number of people, approximately 30 to 50 percent, experience gastrointestinal side effects when taking iron supplements, which is why they often stop using the supplements. This happens because the absorption of iron in the digestive system is represented in a small percentage and a significant part of the iron remains in the digestive system and causes unwanted effects. In order to avoid unpleasant side effects, it is recommended to take iron in combination with probiotics.

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