Iron deficiency anemia is common. In fact a new study just indicated that about 35% of women are iron deficient. When the body has lower iron stores the iron in the body is just used to maintain the red blood cells at expense of the heart, brain and muscle function. This results in many unwanted health effects from sleeplessness, to weight gain, to listless hair, loss of hair, brittle nails, restless legs, fatigue, and brain cloud or brain fog. Body temperature control seems off with even mild anemia. Often we just need a boost in what we eat.
For men, it’s usually strictly dietary if they are low in iron. In fact its so rare in men, if they do have anemia it may mean they have internal gut bleeding (which could occur in women as well). Women lose iron through menstrual blood on a monthly basis, and this, combined with poor nutrition can cause even more significant iron deficiency anemia. Having a bit of nutritional help you normalize hormones and menstrual cycles may make all this advice moot for the average woman if you aren’t losing much blood at all!
However we all benefit from proper iron in our diet which varies according to our age, sex, and diet!
1. Get iron from your food. Iron supplements, may be necessary, but it is also possible to boost your iron through diet. Vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians and those with food allergies can all have nutritional solutions that will be successful. Iron supplements are so poorly tolerated it is now the standard medical recommendation that they be taken only every other day rather than daily so as to minimize side effects and allow for better absorption by your gut.
2. Anyone tired or performing less optimally in the gym should be checked for anemia. You need medical advice is to discover sources of iron loss that may be more subtle than just diet for men or menstrual periods or lack of iron in your diet. Other overlooked sources of iron loss could be exercise induced, giving blood too often, breastfeeding, or inability to absorb iron through your GI tract.
3. Vitamin C, simply obtained through a small glass of orange juice will enable much better absorption of your iron. If you wait 30 minutes before you subsequently consume your meal the combination of iron pill and vitamin C will absorb much more effectively. If no orange juice take the iron and hold off on food for an hour. Any foods high in calcium or fiber like cereals or dairy can bind up your iron and make it less available to be absorbed.
4. Tannins in coffee and tea can bind iron, so don’t take your iron with your morning coffee either! Of course getting your dosage in is better than not at all, so if you must eat, please do if you are due for your dose don’t skip the dose!
5. Vegetarians and vegans should know that the absorption from iron in plant-based foods like spinach can be affected by other substances in food which bind the iron and make it hard to be absorbed in our GI system. Red wine which has tannins like coffee and tea, oxalics in the spinach itself as well as in rhubarb and beetroot, and phosphate in some foods like cheese spreads can all bind iron. If you are getting vegetarian sources of iron, get your blood counts checked periodically.
6. Non-vegetarians can be pleased to learn that meat and fish have iron that is well absorbed, and again these foods help you absorb the iron supplements that you are taking. Vegetarians who consume a lot of tofu or soy protein may find that their iron supplements are not as effective, so think about spacing your soy meals out 2-4 hours from when you take a dose of your iron supplements.
For a detailed list of iron content of food portions look at this medical article: