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Nutrient Profile: Iron

Nutrient Profile: Iron | Mindful Healing Clinic Dr. Maria Cavallazzi Naturopathic Doctor In Mississauga Streetsville Clinic

Iron is a vital mineral that our bodies require to function.

It supports healthy growth and development in children, along with continued hormone support for adults.

But its most important function is transporting oxygen to all cells and tissues in the body.

You can find iron in a wide variety of dietary sources.

However, certain types of dietary iron are easier for your body to absorb than others.

Specially, iron found in animal proteins is the most bioavailable for your body.

This is why vegetarians and vegans are more vulnerable to being iron deficient.

But, don’t worry.

There are ways that you can help your body make the most of its iron intake from non-animal sources.

You just need to be mindful of what you eat with it.

If this sounds a little overwhelming, Mindful Healing can help.

A naturopathic doctor can provide you with information and help create meal plans that ensure you get enough iron in your diet.

It’s a great option to consider, whether or not you eat animal protein.

Keep reading to learn more about what iron does for your body.

What Is Iron?

Iron is a vital mineral that you need to live.

In case you’re wondering, it’s not the same as the metal that you can find in the ground.

There are two forms of dietary iron: heme iron and non-heme iron.

The main difference between the two, is that heme iron is found in animal protein, whereas non-heme iron comes from both plant-based foods and animal protein.

What Does Iron Do For The Body?

Your body needs iron to function properly as it transports oxygen in your blood to take it to your cells.

It supports healthy brain development and child development, along with regular cell and hormone function.

Your body stores iron as ferritin in your spleen, liver, muscle tissue, and bone marrow.

Iron is a core part of hemoglobin, making it responsible for your body’s ability to circulate oxygen from your lungs throughout your body.

Hemoglobin is a type of protein found in your red blood cells that requires iron to transport oxygen.

Not enough oxygen in your body can lead to a number of issues, like fatigue, which is a common symptom if you don’t have enough iron.

Iron is also found in myoglobin, which is a protein in your body that carries and stores oxygen in your muscle tissues.

Dietary Sources Of Iron

Like we said before, there are two main types of iron in food sources: heme iron and non-heme iron.

Heme iron, found in animal protein, is more easily absorbed by your body than non-heme iron.

This is why it is common for vegans or vegetarians to be iron deficient.

Non-heme iron requires help from vitamin C to improve your body’s absorption of it.

You will also want to avoid bran fiber, large amounts of calcium, and certain plant substances like phytates and tannins found in black tea, all of which can reduce your body’s absorption of non-heme iron.

You can find heme iron in meats, poultry, and seafood.

You can find non-heme iron in:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Leafy greens
  • Potato with skin
  • 85% Dark chocolate

RELATED: Is A Raw Food Diet A Good Idea?

Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency is very common, but most commonly affects children, those who are pregnant or menstruating, or people who don’t eat enough animal protein.

RELATED: Top 5 Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies In North American Women

There are three stages of iron deficiency.

The first stage is a decrease in your body’s stored iron.

This can be caused by a low iron diet, or too much bleeding.

If left to progress, your body’s stored iron will be depleted and your hemoglobin will drop.

This will continue until your red blood cells are very low in iron and you have little to no iron stores left.

It’s at this point that you can be diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia – more on that later.

During this process, you could experience:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Increased cold sensitivity
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hair loss
  • Brittle nails
  • Pale skin

You may also experience pica, which is cravings for non-food items like dirt, clay, or ice.

RELATED: Making Sense Of Your Blood Pressure

What Is Iron? | Mindful Healing Clinic Dr. Maria Cavallazzi Naturopathic Doctor In Mississauga Streetsville Clinic

Why Is Iron Deficiency So Common?

Iron deficiency affects roughly one third of the global population.

This is largely a result of food insecurity.

There are many parts of the world where it’s difficult to find a balanced, nutritious diet.

As a result, the most common cause is a poor diet.

Children are sometimes born with a low red blood cell count, which makes it more difficult to absorb iron from breast milk as they get older.

If you’re pregnant, you’ll need more dietary iron than usual to feed your growing baby.

As a result, you’re at greater risk of iron deficiency as well.

This is also true if you have a heavy menstrual flow.

Over a longer term, heavy menstruation can lead to blood loss, which can deplete your body’s stores of iron.

How Is Iron Deficiency Diagnosed?

The main tool iron deficiency is diagnosed through is a blood test.

If you’re experiencing symptoms that could be the result of iron deficiency, your naturopathic doctor will screen for it by ordering a complete blood count and an iron panel.

This includes getting readings of your hemoglobin, hematocrit, and other factors that measure red blood cell size and volume, as well as iron and ferritin levels.

If this comes back below normal, then you have iron deficiency.

What Is Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition characterized by a low hemoglobin due to iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency anemia results in your organs and tissues not getting as much oxygen as they need, which can cause many of the symptoms we mentioned above, like fatigue and lightheadedness.

There are, however, other forms of anemia.

Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency can also cause anemia.

Other forms of anemia include:

  • Sickle cell anemia – a genetic condition that causes misshapen red blood cells
  • Thalassemia – a genetic condition that causes low levels of hemoglobin
  • Aplastic anemia – a rare condition that causes your body to stop producing enough blood cells

These forms of anemia are generally not related to iron deficiency.

However, if you do have one of these forms of anemia, iron deficiency may make your symptoms worse.

RELATED: Naturopathic Solutions For Anemia

Is It Possible To Overdose On Iron?

While it is possible to overdose on iron, it’s very rare because your body regulates iron absorption.

This means that if your iron stores are well maintained, your body will absorb less dietary iron.

It’s more common to overdose if you’re taking iron supplements that are too high dosage for your body, or you have a genetic condition that stores too much iron.

According to a recent study, extreme overdose on iron tablets can be fatal, but this is very rare and usually happens because young children eat a bunch without knowing better.

In healthy people, a high dose iron supplement on an empty stomach can cause an upset stomach, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Large amounts of iron might also cause more serious effects, including inflammation of the stomach lining and ulcers.

Book Your Appointment With The Mindful Healing Clinic Today

You can see how important iron is for your body.

It’s a powerhouse mineral that helps our bodies stay oxygenated so that we can function optimally and accomplish all of our daily tasks.

If you are experiencing symptoms that may indicate an iron deficiency, or you’re just not sure if you’re getting enough, book your appointment with The Mindful Healing Clinic today.

We take the time to understand your concerns and can create a custom treatment plan to help you start to feel better.

Until next time,

Dr. Maria Cavallazzi, N.D
Mindful Healing Naturopathic Clinic
Mississauga, ON L5M 1L7
(905) 819-8200

Dr. Maria Cavallazzi is a medical doctor from Colombia where she practiced as a family physician for 8 years until she moved to Canada 16 years ago and became a naturopathic doctor in Mississauga.