Written by Nourished Not Deprived Practitioners

Iron Deficiency

My GP has just told me I’m iron deficient, now what ??
Let’s firstly discuss ‘What is iron and why is it important?’
Let’s think of iron as an UBER okay. Now this IRONUBER has an assistant called HAEMOGLOBIN that it drives around with to pick up little human OXYGENS. Without Iron haemoglobin wouldn’t be able to pick up OXYGENS. Now OXYGENS need to get around from A to B (A being our LUNGS and B being our TISSUES). If OXYGENS cannot get around the city (our body) then the city doesn’t function as well (the city loses money, becomes dreary, run down and lacklustre). 

This is essentially what happens to our body when we are iron deficient or even anaemic. Oxygen cannot be moved around our body effectively and we may feel one or more of the following symptoms; fatigue, paleness, weakness, dizziness, headaches, glossitis (inflamed tongue)

Who is at risk of iron deficiency?
There are certain populations who are at higher risk of iron deficiency either due to the bodies increased demand or loss of iron during various bodily processes.

Iron deficiency is a common occurrence in adolescent women due to a usually restrictive nature of their diet, combined with rapid growth and depletion or iron come menstruation. It is not uncommon for a young woman to come across the situation of her GP telling her that she is iron deficient or even anaemic.
Now what is important is for women to know how to go about treating this preventable cause and what to do after they are told they are deficient in this essential mineral (if this is you keep reading!)

If you are pregnant you are also at an increased risk of being iron deficient due to your body requiring more oxygen to be driven to your little bubbas growing body! This is something to discuss with your health practitioner.

Young babies are also at risk of iron deficiency, due to situations such as possible lack of complementary food consumption by mother or over feeding through cows milk. Fe-deficiency anaemia (IDA) occurs in 1-2 % of infants in developed countries, peaks at 1-3 years of age and is associated with later cognitive deficits. (1)

What happens if iron deficiency isn’t treated?
If left untreated iron deficiency can lead to increased risk of infection, chronic fatigue, heart condition, Developmental delay in children, Pregnancy complications and Depression (2). So we certainly do not want to leave this untreated!

What do I do if I am iron deficient?
Okay so now that we know the populations at risk, what happens if left untreated and why it is important that we manage or even prevent iron deficiency. What do we do?

Well, if you have been diagnosed with iron deficiency there are a few steps you can take to treat this ailment:

1. Implement iron rich food sources into your diet.
There are 2 types of iron, haem iron and non haem iron. Haem iron is more readily absorbed by the body and is found in your animal based protein sources (i.e.. chicken liver, beef, lamb, fish, poultry) and Non-Haem iron is less readily absorbed, found in your plant based foods (i.e.. beans, chickpeas, oatmeal, lentils, Weet-bix).
Implementing these foods readily into your diet can assist in increasing your iron stores!

2. Pair your iron rich food sources with a Vitamin C source.
Now something I personally find really cool is that when we pair our iron sources with a Vitamin C source this increases the bioavailability of our iron! So pairing your Weetabix with some berries in the morning can be a good way of increasing the bioavailability of the iron.

3. Increase the bioavailability of your iron source by spacing your iron rich food sources (most meals) out from your Caffeine or Calcium consumption (around 30 minutes apart).
Caffeine and Calcium can decrease the bioavailability of your iron, so pairing your Caffeine and Calcium away from your meals high in iron when possible can be a good way to minimize decrease in bioavailability. Don’t be worried if you cannot follow these guidelines all the time, just be aware of it and follow it when possible.

4. Supplementation provision (prescribed by your GP).
It is important to speak to your health care provider when supplementing with iron as too much iron can also be harmful and certain medications or supplements can interact with the iron. 

What are the take home points?
There are certain populations that are more prone to iron deficiency than others. People that fall into this category should be wary of this risk and implement strategies (such as increasing their iron intake) into their diet.
If iron deficiency is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications such as heart conditions.
If you have been diagnosed with iron deficiency it is important to speak to your health care providers for the best way to manage this. Your Dietitian can assist in creating structured plans and guidelines to increase your consumption and to keep you accountable while including this in your diet.


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