I guess most of us believe the major indicator of iron deficiency is fatigue, however there are several other symptoms which may suggest low iron levels. Dizziness, poor concentration, cold hands and feet, headaches or even brittle flattened spoon shaped fingernails.
The question is often asked - why does an iron deficiency make me tired? Anaemia or iron deficiency develops when our body lacks enough iron to make adequate haemoglobin. The haemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body. When we are iron deficient every cell in the body is suffering from lack of oxygen, which then causes us to feel weak and tired and experience headaches, dizziness etc.
The next question is why do we become iron deficient? The answer for many women is excessive blood loss due to heavy menstrual periods. Someone suffering from chronic long term blood loss due to gastric ulcers, haemorrhoids or uterine fibroids or even gastrointestinal bleeding from regular use of aspirin can experience iron deficiency. Disorders such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and general malabsorption disorders can affect our intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from digested food leading to iron deficiency. If we have a high intake of tea, coffee, calcium and even antacids this can cause a problem. Our body needs stomach acid to convert dietary iron into a form that can be absorbed into the small intestine. Unfortunately antacids may interfere with this absorption.
Obviously when we are pregnant it is suggested we take an iron supplement. A mum-to-be needs enough iron stores to meet the needs of her own increased blood volume as well as that of her growing foetus. A foetus needs iron to develop red blood cells, blood vessels and muscle.
Vegetarians often source their iron from grains and vegetables which are poorly absorbed by the body compared to iron which is sourced from meat. Some of the best dietary sources of iron would therefore be beef, liver, oysters, soybeans, wheatgerm, prune juice, kidney beans, apricots, parsley and spinach.
One of the lesser known iron rich foods is black strap molasses. It is also an excellent source of copper, manganese, potassium and magnesium with copper being particularly beneficial for the utilization of iron. Molasses is also a good source of calcium. Molasses is in fact a by-product from the process which converts sugar cane into sugar. The juice extracted from the sugar cane is boiled giving it a syrupy texture which then leaves 3 grades of molasses. ‘First molasses’ is the result of boiling it once and has the highest sugar content. ‘Second molasses’ is boiled twice and is not as high in sugar. The third more nutritious is ‘black strap molasses’ which is boiled three times, retains the least amount of sugar with iron content increasing by approximately 5% with this third boiling. Unlike refined sugar, which is stripped of nearly all nutrients, blackstrap molasses is sweet in taste and higher in nutrients. It’s easy to make into a tasty drink. Just add 1tbsp of black strap molasses to a cup of warm milk.
Once we develop anaemia, increased intake of iron rich food is beneficial, however it is also important to take an iron supplement to build up iron stores. We often suggest taking a liquid iron supplement which is more easily absorbed and generally means our iron levels will increase faster. It is also imperative to supplement with Vitamin C to assist with iron absorption. It will be necessary to take an iron supplement for several months or longer to replenish iron stores.
Call in today to chat to Bev and the team at Go Vita, Your Health Shop at 5 North St, Batemans Bay or phone on 0244729737. Don’t forget to tune into Bev on 2EC every Wednesday at 12.30pm on Go Get Healthy.