Iron is essential to all body cells. Iron functions primarily as a carrier of oxygen in the body, both as a part of hemoglobin in the blood and of myoglobin in the muscles. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when there is not enough iron in the red blood cells. This is a common problem often caused by pregnancy, blood loss, a diet low in iron or poor absorption of iron by the body. There are a variety of possible symptoms of iron deficiency including:
• lack of energy or tiredness
• extreme fatigue and feeling of weakness
• pale skin
• light headedness
• pale skin on the lining of the eyes, the inner mouth and the nails
• rapid and forceful heartbeat
• low blood pressure with position change from sitting to standing up
• finger nails that become thin, brittle and white – they may grow abnormally and get a spoon-shaped appearance
• tongue may become sore, smooth and reddened
• decrease in appetite
• shortness of breath during exercise
• brittle hair
Because the typical symptoms of iron deficiency have many causes, diagnosis by a blood test is needed to confirm the presence of iron deficiency anemia.
If your blood iron level is low, it’s important to meet with a nutritionist to evaluate your diet and recommend a multivitamin pill or prescribe an iron supplement. Although iron is found in a variety of different foods and supplements, its availability to the body varies significantly. In general, iron is not readily absorbed by the body. Availability is partially determined by whether the iron is found in the form of HEME or NON-HEME iron.
HEME iron is found only in meat, fish and poultry and is absorbed much more easily than NON-HEME iron, which is found primarily in fruits, vegetables, dried beans, nuts and grain products.