Iron is a crucial mineral that plays a significant role in various bodily functions. It is primarily found in hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, where nearly half the body’s iron is located. It also exists in muscles and enzymes that are involved in cellular protection, energy production, and metabolism. In addition, iron is stored in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow, where it binds to a protein called ferritin.
The body naturally loses iron, making it essential to consume iron-rich foods daily. Iron can be found in animal-based foods like meat, fish, and eggs, as well as plant-based foods like legumes, green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. However, the body absorbs iron from plant-based foods at a lower rate compared to animal-based foods. This is due to the chemical structure of plant-based iron and the presence of substances like dietary fiber, phytates, and oxalates that inhibit iron absorption.
Despite this, the absorption of iron from plant-based foods can be improved by vitamin C. The combination of these two substances enhances iron absorption, thus, it’s advisable to consume iron-rich plant foods with vitamin C-rich fruits or vegetables, such as red pepper, or seasoned with lemon juice.
To mitigate the effects of phytates in legumes on iron absorption, it’s advisable to soak or sprout them. Other factors that inhibit iron absorption include tannins found in coffee, cocoa, and tea, as well as calcium and casein in milk and dairy products. Therefore, it is not recommended to consume these alongside a vegetarian meal.
Aside from food components, certain medications that contradict stomach acidity, like Xanteg, Simtag, and Tagmet, can also inhibit iron absorption.
Iron deficiency is diagnosed by evaluating the results of various blood tests. These tests measure the levels of hemoglobin, free iron (the iron available for cellular use), and ferritin (a measure of iron stores). It’s important to remember that exceeding the normal range doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem or disease, but it’s advisable to consult with your doctor.
Anemia is a condition characterized by low levels of hemoglobin, a protein responsible for giving blood its red color. Hemoglobin transports oxygen molecules from the lungs to various body tissues and returns carbon dioxide to the lungs. Symptoms of anemia, which is common among women, children, and adolescents, include fatigue, paleness, lack of concentration, headaches, shortness of breath, rapid pulse, and impaired learning and memory. In adults, iron deficiency can negatively affect physical ability and quality of life.
Iron deficiency can be caused by various factors, including blood loss due to injury, surgery, blood donation, or internal bleeding. It can also result from a poor diet low in iron sources, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet, or insufficient food consumption due to economic or other reasons. Other causes include problems with iron absorption in the body, environmental changes, and developmental changes, such as rapid growth in children and adolescents, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, which all increase the daily iron requirement.
To address iron deficiency, it’s important to improve your diet and treat the underlying causes of the deficiency. In many cases, diet alone cannot replenish iron stores and overcome anemia, and an iron supplement may be necessary. For infants, regular iron drops should be given from the age of four months until one and a half years to support normal brain development. This is particularly important for children and adolescents, as significant iron deficiency can have irreversible effects.
Regular blood tests are important for diagnosing iron deficiency, especially among at-risk populations such as women of reproductive age, infants, and toddlers. If you or a family member are suspected of having an iron deficiency due to diet or if there are symptoms indicative of iron deficiency, such as weakness, fatigue, or lack of concentration, comprehensive tests should be carried out, including checks for iron values and iron stores.