All cells require iron, which works primarily by carrying oxygen in the body as a part of hemoglobin in the red blood cells and as myoglobin in
muscle cells. Anemia results when there is not enough iron in the red blood cells and is a common problem seen after pregnancy, blood loss and
a diet either low in iron or poor absorption of iron by the body.
Iron deficiency is still considered to be the most common single nutrient deficiency in the world affecting approximately 15 percent of the
world’s population. New research on vitamin D maintains that vitamin D deficiency is at least 5 times more common but this fact has yet to be
accepted by most government agencies.
Possible Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency:
• Severe fatigue • Rapid heartbeat • Decrease in appetite
• Weakness • Heart murmur • Abdominal pain
• Light headedness • Low blood pressure with position • Shortness of breath during exercise
• Poor exercise tolerance change from sitting to standing up • Brittle hair
• Headache • Brittle finger nails • Hair loss
• Pale skin (pallor) • Thin and white finger nails • Decreased immunity
• Pallor on the lining of the eyes • Nails with a spoon-shaped appearance • A strong desire to eat items such as
• Pallor on the inner mouth and the nails • Sore, smooth and reddened tongue ice, paint or dirt (known as Pica)
All these symptoms can be caused by numerous health conditions other than iron deficiency so a blood test must be done in order to make
the right diagnosis. A complete blood count and a serum ferritin level is what you should be asking your doctor to order to see if you need to
improve your iron status.
If your serum ferritin runs below 80 nanograms/ml (normal is 80 – 300), you will need to improve your iron intake through either eating more
iron-rich foods or taking an iron supplement.
The absorption of iron from foods varies significantly from person to person. In general, iron is not readily absorbed from non-heme sources
(fruits, vegetables, dried beans, nuts and whole grains). The absorption of iron is significantly better from heme sources such as meat, fish and
Regardless of source, iron absorption is enhanced by vitamin C from oranges, lemons, grapefruits, tomatoes, broccoli or strawberries. If a nonheme
source is eaten with a heme source of iron, absorption is also enhanced. If one cooks any non-heme source in a cast iron pot, iron absorp- tion is similarly improved.
Inhibitors of iron absorption include large amounts of coffee or tea, an excess intake of high fibre foods such as bran as well as a high intake of
calcium either from dairy products or calcium supplements. Taking iron and calcium supplements at a different time would be the right thing to
do here in order to absorb more iron from foods.
The body somehow increases iron absorption on its own whenever iron stores are depleted but this is usually not enough to correct most cases
of iron deficiency.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron for non-vegetarian pre-menopausal women is 18 mg/day. The RDA for non-vegetarian
men and post-menopausal women is 8 mg/day.
Due to absorption issues in a healthful, high-fibre vegetarian diet, the RDAs for vegetarians are higher – 14 mg/day for vegetarian men and 33
mg/day for vegetarian women. Iron absorption should be twice as much for vegans who exclude all animal products.