Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This means a lot of people are concerned (or, should be concerned) about iron. Here, we’ll answer the most common iron questions.
What is Iron?
Iron is a mineral used to produce red blood cells. These red blood cells help store and carry oxygen throughout your body.
What are the Signs of Iron Deficiency?
Signs you are deficient in iron include dizziness, headaches, cold hands and feet and extreme fatigue.
Who is at Risk for Iron Deficiency?
Per the NIH, those most at risk for iron deficiency include “women during their menstrual periods and pregnancy, people who donate blood frequently, do not get enough iron or certain vitamins, or take certain medicines or treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer.”
What are the Risk Factors of Iron Deficiency?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are a variety of additional factors that increase your risk of iron deficiency. One is age. Children under 2 might have lower iron if they only drink breast milk, teens might need more iron during growth spurts and older adults over 65 are more at risk for iron deficiency.
Another factor that puts you at risk for iron deficiency is dietary and exercise choices. Vegetarians and vegans who opt out of eating iron-rich foods such as meat and fish may not get the recommended daily intake of iron. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports endurance athletes and teen athletes are especially at risk. Endurance athletes frequently lose iron “through the breakdown of red blood cells, called hemolysis. Hemolysis, in this case, is caused by strong muscle contractions and the impact of feet repeatedly striking the ground, such as with marathon runners.”
Finally, those that donate blood frequently may also be at risk of depleted iron and may want to check with their doctor about their iron levels.
How Can Iron Supplements Help?
Iron supplements can help if you are low in iron or are not getting enough iron in your diet. You want to make sure to check with your doctor to see if iron supplements are the right choice for you and if you need them.
Can I Take Iron Supplements Without a Doctor?
You want to be careful about this. It is not recommended that those who aren’t deficient in iron take iron supplements. Too much iron can potentially damage your organs. Always check with your doctor before taking these supplements. You should never take an iron supplement without discussing it with your doctor first.
What Are the Side Effects of Iron Supplements?
There are several side effects that occur from too much iron including a metallic taste in your mouth, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation or an upset stomach. Your doctor may then recommend alternatives, for instance, taking your supplements with food or at a lower dose. You can also look for an iron supplement that is more gentle on the stomach. MegaFood’s Blood BuilderⓇ was shown in an 8-week clinical trial to increase iron levels without common gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea or constipation.†*
What About Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy?
Iron deficiency during pregnancy is quite common. Per the CDC, “Among pregnant women, iron deficiency during the first two trimesters of pregnancy is associated with a twofold increased risk for preterm delivery and a threefold increased risk for delivering a low-birthweight baby.” Therefore supplementing with iron during pregnancy is something every expecting mom should discuss with their doctor.
Am I at Risk for an Iron Deficiency?
If you are an athlete, blood donor, vegan, vegetarian or a woman under 55 – it just might be you. If you fall into one (or multiple!) of these categories you should check with your doctor at your annual physical to see if she or he recommends an iron supplement.