Why is iron important?
Iron is a vital nutrient needed by the body which is present in all the cells of the body. While its functions are vital, its deficiency leads to crippling effect on the entire body.
The first and foremost function of iron is to carry oxygen from the lungs to body tissues and to carry back carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs. This process is very important for maintaining the hemoglobin level in the blood. Any reduction in the level of hemoglobin level leads to a medical condition known as Latent Iron Deficiency at first, eventually leading to anemia, which is a serious ailment, if the deficiency is allowed to persist for a longer time.
Anemia is the ultimate stage in iron deficiency and in between many other diseases occur due to deficiency in iron. The minimum required iron to be maintained in the body is 3.8 gm for men and 2.3 gm for women. Whenever the said level decreases, the body encounters diseases such as fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, irritability, brittle nails, and painful atrophy of the mucous membrane covering the tongue, impaired immune function, restless leg syndrome, general weakness, pica and finally anemia.
Reasons for iron deficiency
Iron deficiency occurs both due to natural functions of the body and due to artificial or non-natural developments.
The natural reasons are excessive menstrual bleeding, non-menstrual bleeding, blood donation etc.
The non-natural reasons can be inadequate intake of iron, malabsorption, parasitic infection, inflammatory bowel syndrome, excessive bleeding due to bodily injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory tract on account of other disorders.
Gastrointestinal bleeding may be due to intake of aspirin, ibuprofen or medicines taken to treat arthritis. Taking antacids prevent absorption of iron from food.
Strict vegetarians and elderly people who do not consume required quantities of food regularly are bound to be affected by iron deficiency.
Symptoms of iron deficiency
Some of the symptoms to realize that you have iron deficiency are:
- Shortness of breath due to climbing stairs or during work outs
- Looking pale
- Irregular periods in women
- Craving to eat non-food items like clay, ice, paper and the likes
- Increased anxiety, low thyroid, pregnancy
- Regular vomiting due to morning sickness.
- Blood oozing through stools or dark, tar colored stools are symptoms of iron deficiency.
It is not advisable to self-diagnose or self-treat iron deficiency as it may lead to excess iron in the body which may lead to liver damage and constipation. Conduct a complete blood and if necessary based on the results of the test other specific tests can be taken to fix the problem.
Iron deficiency in women
According to studies, women suffer more due to iron deficiency. At least one in five of women of child bearing age are found to be affected by anemia. It is more so in the case of pregnant women. Such deficiency occurs additionally as the child bearing women need more blood as they have to support the babies too.
If the deficiency is due to excess bleeding during periods, you should test for any uterine fibroid by using a pelvic ultrasound. Fibroids are muscular tumors that grow in the uterus. Though they may mostly not be cancerous, they can cause bleeding and lead to iron deficiency.
Pregnant and breast feeding mothers have to take iron supplements orally or through intravenous injections as the diet they consume may not supply adequate quantity of iron.
Remedies for iron deficiency
The causes and symptoms vary from person to person and the treatment needs to be different in each case.
The only general rule is that iron deficiency must be measured by various laboratory tests depending upon the symptoms and causes. . The causes depend on the symptoms. Through multiple laboratory tests, you can treat it.
Remedy for diseases due to iron deficiency lies in selecting the appropriate food initially. But if this is inadequate, you can then go for oral supplements or intravenous injections after diagnosis.
You can cure iron deficiency by consuming appropriate foods.
Eating iron rich foods and consuming food items that contain good quantity of vitamin C is important to treat the deficiency.
Foods that are rich in iron are:
- Spinach and leafy greens
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Ash gourd
- Bottle gourd
- Dried fruits
- Iron fortified instant cereals
- Whole grain bread
- Eggs, sea food and meat.
- Take beetroot and apple juices in equal quantity.
- Add a tea spoon of honey.
Drink this once a day to improve iron.
- Take black strap molasses.
- Add apple cider vinegar in equal quantity.
- Add water and stir.
- Drink this once in two days.
Foods rich in vitamin C : Citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, leafy greens, russels sprouts, red and green bell peppers. The lists are not exhaustive. Depending upon the requirement and availability people can source appropriate food items that may contain good quantity of iron and vitamin C.