Why is iron so important for your health?
Our bodies need iron, and you get that iron from food. Iron is important for mental and physical health and to keep your energy levels up.
In the body, iron is an essential part of haemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells. Haemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood from the lungs to the rest of the body. Oxygen is required in your brain for concentration and in your muscles for physical energy. Iron is also needed to maintain a healthy immune system, helping you to fight off infections.
So you can see how important iron is in maintaining good health. Normally your iron levels remain in balance, with iron from your diet replacing any iron you may have lost.
Why do I have low iron?
The supply and demand for iron in your body can become unbalanced for a number of reasons, including:
1. Your diet may lack iron
Iron can be found in both animal products and plant foods. As iron from animal products is better absorbed by your body than iron from plant foods, if you are vegetarian or vegan it is more likely that you may not be getting enough iron.
2. Poor absorption of iron from your food
Some medical conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) or coeliac disease, affect the absorption of iron from food into your bloodstream.
3. The result of blood loss
For example, due to heavy periods, injury or surgery.
4. Increased demand for red blood cells or oxygen in your body
For example, as a result of intense exercise, growth in children and adolescents, or pregnancy.
What happens if I don’t get enough iron?
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. If you think you may be iron deficient, it is important that you speak to your doctor so that they can investigate further.
What can interfere with iron absorption?
Foods such as tea, coffee, chocolate and milk can interfere with the iron absorption of ferrous salts including ferrous sulfate and ferrous fumarate, which are commonly found in other iron supplements. For this reason, these supplements are generally recommended to be taken on an empty stomach.