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© 2017 Naturopathic Care

  • by Tara Nelson

Why are so many women low in Iron?


Iron deficiency would by far be the most common mineral deficiency that I see in clinic and it seems to be getting worse. I see it a lot in children also, dispelling the myth that iron deficiency is only seen in menstruating women.

So why is iron so important and why do we feel so crappy when it is low?? Well iron basically oxygenates the body as it transports oxygen around the body in red blood cells. Low iron = low red blood cells=low oxygen= fatigue.

Iron converts food to energy. The cells need iron to convert energy from food into ATP which is the body’s main energy source.

Iron is needed to develop immune cells called lymphocytes which are part of our immune defence for viruses and bacteria.

Iron plays a role in healthy brain function including memory, attention, alertness, learning and problem solving.

Iron is a co-factor for thyroid hormone production.

There are many reasons to be low in iron and rather than just popping iron tablets it is vital to find the reason why you have consistently low iron and work on fixing the cause. NEVER just think, “Oh, I am tired”, and go and buy some iron tablets! Iron should ALWAYS be tested for first to find out if you really need iron and will determine the correct dosage to take to get your iron levels where they should be for optimal health.

When iron is tested, it will be tested in an iron panel and includes:

Iron – this is a measure of your dietary or supplement intake and can differ from day to day.

Transferrin – is a measure of the protein in the blood that transports or binds the iron through the body – so how much protein is available to get the iron around to where it is needed. Can indicate iron deficiency anaemia.

Saturation – tells us how much iron is bound. If this is high it may indicate a genetic condition where there is too much iron in the body – Hemochromatosis.

Ferritin – a protein used to store iron in the body releasing it when needed such as menstruation, illness and injury and energy. This is what we are looking for to gauge what your iron is like. Ideally your ferritin should be around 80.

Common iron deficiency symptoms include:

  • Fatigue

  • Light-headedness/dizziness

  • Low stamina

  • Restless legs especially at night

  • Brain fog or poor concentration

  • Frequent infections

  • Sore tongue

  • Weak nails

  • Craving strange things such as dirt, chalk or ice

  • No appetite

  • Pale skin, nails, eyelids

  • Hair loss and or alopecia

So let’s look at why you may not have enough iron and why you just don’t hold onto in your body.

Poor absorption/gut health –

The first thing to consider is that many of us are walking around with less than optimal stomach acid needed to break down and absorb all the nutrients from our food, especially iron. Low stomach acid can arise from age – our gut acid decreases as we age, stress depletes gut acid, taking PPI’s (protein pump inhibitors such as Nexium for reflux and heartburn, refined carbs and sugar. If you feel like you cannot digest meat, or bloating after meals, both good signs your stomach acid is low.

Poor absorption will also happen in conditions such as coeliac disease, gluten sensitivity, and food intolerances where the gut is inflamed and irritated and leaky gut results. Absorption of many minerals and nutrients will be minimal here and correcting acidity and healing leaky gut is the first step to ensuring adequate iron absorption.

The next is ensuring you are eating enough iron rich foods in your diet. If you are vegan or vegetarian, chances are your iron will be low as non-haem sources of iron are poorly absorbed. These include vegetarian sources such as spinach, apricots, pine nuts, soy beans, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Haem sources of iron from animal sources are absorbed extremely well in the presence of good stomach acid, vitamin C rich foods and a healthy gut.

Sources of haem-iron rich foods include: shellfish, poultry, and red meat, liver.

Too many grains and sugar in the diet inhibits iron absorption as the phytates in grains can bind to iron and pass it out of the body without being absorbed.

Excessive calcium from dairy –calcium competes with iron for absorption so if diary and calcium is high then iron will be low. A double whammy is when you have tea or coffee with dairy and drink them with or near meals and the tannins in tea and coffee reduce iron absorption and triple whammy, the tannins decrease stomach acid as well!!

Still in the digestive/gut area, bacterial pathogens and parasites can not only cause leaky gut but actually use iron as their fuel source and will devour large iron stores.

Blood Loss

Heavy periods every month as in 3-4 very heavy days out of 7 or more days will drain iron stores and will need to be replaced to ensure deficiency does not occur. Anaemia or low iron can actually cause heavy menstrual bleeding due to low levels of circulating red blood cells. The body just cannot replenish the iron stores or red blood cells and it is like a vicious cycle. Also hormonal conditions such as uterine fibroids which may cause heavy bleeding and contribute to low iron.

Internal bleeding is another cause from stomach ulcers or bleeding in the colon.

When the body cannot use iron

Imbalances in other minerals such as copper, zinc, cobalt, nickel and magnesium can compete with iron absorption. All minerals work synergistically in the body and we don’t want too much or too little of one or the other or it will lower others. High copper is specific here and well as high heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium which all complete with iron absorption. A Hair Mineral Analysis can show you what your levels of minerals are in the body.

Excessive exercise will use up a lot of energy and a lot of iron gets used in the process. High impact sports actually destroy red blood cells.

Genetics

The family of b vitamin including B12 and folate and needed for the absorption of iron, can also cause anaemia as they are all involved in the transport of energy in the body. These nutrients are all low in vegan and vegetarian diets, if your stomach acid is low, in poor gut health and poor dietary intakes. Pernicious anaemia or B12 deficiency and affect iron absorption.

Combined with this is genetic polymorphisms which inhibit the absorption of iron and B vitamins such as MTHFR which I regularly test for in clinic.

Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding all require higher amounts of iron.

A word on iron infusions usually given to women who have very low ferritin or anaemia. Apart from the side effects of a large volume of iron being injected into the blood stream, all that iron at once can damage the liver eventually causing liver problems if one is relying on that way to get iron long term. Iron infusions can be life saving, but if you don't find out why you continually have low iron, you will have to keep having infusions that will damage your liver causing hormonal, weight and thyroid issues eventually.

So you can see here that there are many reasons that someone may have low iron. In many people, iron just doesn’t stand a chance. Can you relate to any or many of these??

There is always a reason or cause as to why we are experiencing health problems, imbalances or deficiencies in the body, and it takes thorough investigation and testing to find your unique levels and causes.

For a full evaluation of why you may be experiencing low iron get in touch today.

imbalances or deficiencies in the body, and it takes thorough investigation and testing to find your unique levels and causes.

For a full evaluation of why you may be experiencing low iron get in touch today.


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