Iron is an essential nutrient for your body, which you get from your food. It is needed for your mental and physical health and to keep your energy levels up.1–3 Iron is present in a substance called haemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells. Haemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood from the lungs to the rest of the body.4 Oxygen is required in your brain for concentration and in your muscles for physical energy.5
Iron is also needed to maintain a healthy immune system, helping you to fight off infections.6
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What happens if you don’t get enough iron?
If the iron levels in your body are low you can become iron deficient. The recommended levels for iron in the body are different for different people, depending on age and gender.7 Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world.8
Over time, iron deficiency can mean that your body makes fewer healthy red blood cells, a condition known as Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA). In industrialised countries, between two and four percent of people have iron deficiency anaemia.7,9,10 There are many symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia, however one of the main signs is feeling fatigued or exhausted1 because your blood is less able to transport oxygen around your body.4
If iron deficiency is not treated there can be long-term consequences for your health. Fatigue and other symptoms of iron deficiency can also lower your quality of life and reduce your ability to concentrate and be productive at work.3 If you think you may be anaemic or iron deficient, it is important that you speak to your doctor so that they can investigate further.
- Verdon F, Burnand B, Stubi C-LF, et al. Iron supplementation for unexplained fatigue in non-anaemic women: double blind randomised placebo controlled trial. BMJ. 2003;326:1124.
- Brownlie T, Utermohlen V, Hinton PS, Haas JD. Tissue iron deficiency without anemia impairs adaptation in endurance capacity after aerobic training in previously untrained women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(3):437-43.
- Haas JD, Brownlie IV T. Iron Deficiency and Reduced Work Capacity : A Critical Review of the Research to Determine a Causal Relationship. J Nutr. 2001;131(2):676S-690S.
- Dean L. 1. Blood and the cells it contains. Blood Groups Red Cell Antigens. 2005:1-6.
- Lozoff B, Beard J, Connor J, Felt B, Georgieff M. Long-lasting Neural and Behavioral effects of iron deficiency in infancy. Nutr Rev. 2006;64:S34-S91.
- Dhur A, Galan P, Hercberg S. Iron status, immune capacity and resistance to infections. Comp Biochem Physiol. 1989;94A(1):11-19.
- McLean E, Cogswell M, Egli I, Wojdyla D, de Benoist B. Worldwide prevalence of anaemia, WHO Vitamin and Mineral Nutrition Information System, 1993-2005. Public Health Nutr. 2009;12(4):444-54. doi:10.1017/S1368980008002401.
- Radlowski EC, Johnson RW. Perinatal iron deficiency and neurocognitive development. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:1-11.
- CDCCDC. (n.d.). Iron Deficiency — United States 1999–2000. CDC MMWR. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5140a1.htm. Iron Deficiency — United States, 1999–2000. CDC MMWR. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5140a1.htm.
- Anne C. Looker, Peter R. Dallman, Margaret D. Carroll, Elaine W. Gunter CLJ. Prevalence of Iron Deficiency in the United States. JAMA. 1997;277(12):973-976.