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Iron & Health...What You Should Know

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. This is for informational and educational purposes only.

Many of you have probably been told before that your iron was low, at one point or another. Many of you probably have even struggled with getting your iron levels up to an adequate range for years, have had your struggles with being prescribed iron pills and their side effects, and have been left feeling disempowered when it comes to this issue. Let’s change that. We are here to discuss all things that I wish more humans, especially women, knew when it comes to iron and our health. These are the missing puzzle pieces, the factors that not only help us understand our own physiology but also help us to get informed and empowered.

What Iron Impacts

Iron is an important mineral for the human body. I truly believe that if healthcare practitioners would thoroughly review just why iron is SO important for health, more people would feel motivated to comply with their care plan and would leave feeling empowered (after being told by their healthcare provider that their labs showed their iron is low). This isn’t just “your test came back showing that your iron is low and we need you to take this supplement in order to raise it.” It goes beyond that, we need to help our patients understand WHY they need iron and just how many processes in their body iron levels are playing a role in.

Iron is needed to produce hemoglobin and contributes to the transport of oxygen throughout the body. In addition to this, iron impacts other vital processes in the body.

Some evidence supports that there is a relationship between iron levels and fertility/conception. Animal research has yielded results where severe iron deficiency was correlated to lower conception rates (Yan Qin Li et al., 2014). Maternal iron status also impacts a baby’s iron throughout their early life. That is right, what pregnant mama’s iron is during the pregnancy actually impacts the baby - even once they are born, playing a role in what their iron levels will be in their early life (Burke et al., 2014).

Iron is necessary for the production of thyroid hormone. Your thyroid is a “master gland” which controls and impacts other hormones’ production and impacts our metabolism, fertility, weight, and energy, just to name a few things. The production of thyroid hormone depends on iron as part of the process.

Iron can also impact our hair. When iron is low this can play a role in hair loss and hair thinning. In addition, low iron can be correlated with lower energy and poor ability to concentrate.

What Can Cause Low Iron?

Some potential reasons for low iron can include:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding

  • Low dietary intake of iron

  • Poor absorption of iron (even if dietary intake is sufficient)

Iron: Which Sources Are Best?

Heme iron, or animal sources of iron, tend to be better absorbed by the human body. A classic example of heme iron sourcing is red meat. Of course, there are non-animal/non-heme sources that also provide us with iron, such as pumpkin seeds, beets, and lentils.

Supplementing

Many people report gastrointestinal upset with iron supplementation, including constipation. Here is the deal, the source of iron that you take can make a difference, in addition to the dosing. I tend to shy away from iron supplements which are synthetic, aka not natural, and tend to lean more towards supplements which are animal sourced. In other words, the iron isn’t just made in a lab, it comes from an animal and is used for the making of the iron supplement. The type of iron one is taking, in addition to the dosing, can help to curb side effects and impact absorption rates. What is the point of taking a supplement if you aren’t going to absorb it? I normally don’t like to dose iron too high, I like to make sure the individual can handle a smaller dose and then we incrementally add if more is needed. Generally speaking, taking an iron supplement with vitamin c can help to increase the absorption of the iron. It is important to get your lab work done again (after supplementing with iron to re-check your iron levels and adjust supplementation) if necessary. Always talk to your doctor about which supplementation plan is best for you before beginning any interventions.







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