Keep chalking up your health problems with no diagnosis? Check those iron levels first! Iron (and we're not talking hard metal here) is an essential mineral for our bodies. It helps promote good blood works and overall is a vital element for good health.
WebMD recommends women ages 19-50 have 18 mg of iron a day. Ideally, you should get this from your diet. But, if you tend to suffer from heavy periods, eat badly or just gave birth, you could be at a greater risk for iron deficiency anaemia.
But what sort of symptoms should you look out for then? Nutritionist for Inner Me, Amanda Hamilton explains. "Lethargy is the most common symptom associated with iron deficiency. However, if you become anaemic this can also lead to shortness of breath, dizziness, palpitations, headaches, a pale complexion and brittle hair and nails. "
That's the last thing you want, right? First thing to change - get your diet right! Here's a list of some of our favourite iron-rich foods to buy...
- Red meat
- Pumpkin seeds
For vegetarians, Amanda recommends trying dried fruit, whole grains, leafy greens and pulses but warns, "They must be eaten with a source of vitamin C if the iron is to be well absorbed."
To make sure you're getting everything you need, why not take a supplement like Nature Made Multi For Her, which has 23 key nutrients - including a day's worth of iron - for daily nutritional support.
If you think you might be low in iron, assess your lifestyle, diet and symptoms but don't freak out! It's easier than ever to start feeling good again!
Ladies, here are the top 10 essential benefits you NEED to know about iron...
1. Blood works
We all lose various amounts of iron in our body from day to day. Going for a run and taking a tinkle are just a few of the ways our body loses iron. We lose even more when we bleed. Painstaking periods or little shaving nicks are other ways our body loses out on iron; unfortunately, we're always vulnerable to lower levels. That's why it's so important to make sure you're getting enough of it.
Nutritionist Emma Wight-Boycott says, "The chief function of iron is the formation of hemoglobin (the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen). Not only does the iron give hemoglobin a dark shade of red to the blood, it also aids in transporting oxygen to the body's cells which is vital for our organs and muscles to work."
2. Muscle function
Iron is the chief nutrient for strong, healthy muscles, and without it your muscles can become weak and run-down.
Emma adds, "If you exercise, iron also helps your muscle cells match the supply of oxygen required by muscles that are working and under stress – it’s therefore a very important mineral for those who work out."
3. Fit brain
Iron is directly linked to our brain health, but not in a budding genius kinda way...
Emma says, "Oxygen supply in the blood is aided by iron, and since the brain uses approximately 20% of the blood's oxygen, iron is directly related to the health of our brain. Having enough iron in our diets can actually stimulate cognitive activity and also help prevent cognitive disorders – what’s not to love about iron?"
Not much, right? Basically, iron helps our brains develop healthily! So without it, you could be setting yourself up for some mental health problems in the future.
If you're feeling sleepy or lethargic throughout the day don't reach out for a sugary snack! Beat the afternoon slump and increase your energy by using this opportunity to indulge in iron-rich foods.
"If you don’t have enough iron, your body has to work a whole lot harder to get the energy that it needs – which can leave you feeling tired, weak, irritable and unable to focus. Having enough iron in your diet will fight fatigue and increase your energy levels," says Emma. Get munching on those almonds!
5. Strong immunity
In constant reach of a pain-relieving Advil? If you're feeling as weak as a kitten, you may find that your immune system is pretty low... meaning you could be lacking in the iron department!
Emma says, "Iron plays a key role in providing strength to the immune system of our body, which helps us make sure the body can fight against a number of diseases and infections."
It's easy to forget about our iron levels, we get it - who actually checks this kinda thing, right? But it's important to make sure you're giving it some attention. Try making sure you're getting your iron fix by having it first thing in the morning. A baby spinach omelet with a glass of fresh orange juice is a great way to boost your iron levels - try it.
6. Healthy hair, skin and nails
You know that all-important beauty-boosting protein (i.e. keratin) we're always reading about in beauty mags? Our body needs iron to help form it! So if your iron levels are low, your hair, skin and nails will look, well, pretty dull.
“As the blood transports oxygen around the body and sufficient iron helps create red blood cells it can help stop you feeling sluggish or tired, and, of course give us good colour and a rosy vibrant complexion," says Pukka's master herbologist, Sebastian Pole.
If you're iron deficient, "Skin may be pale, nails may be brittle and your hair can become noticeably more dry, brittle and dull," says Emma. For glowing skin and healthy hair and nails, make sure you're getting all the iron you need!
7. It's essential for moms
Pregnant women are especially susceptible to low iron levels because of their baby's demands for growth and development.
Emma says, "In the last six weeks of pregnancy the baby builds up its own storage of iron from its mother to last the first 4-6 months following birth. Therefore, iron demands can triple by the end of pregnancy, which is often difficult to achieve from dietary sources alone."
More often than not, women are found with inadequate levels of iron even BEFORE their pregnancy, which could lead to problems during and after birth.
To help top up your levels try a natural food iron supplement. And don't forget to increase your intake of Vitamin C to help absorb the iron (be weary of coffee and tea which could inhibit absorption)!
8. It helps you sleep
As you know, iron levels play a key role in helping to strengthen our immune systems, which can affect many aspects of our life, such as SLEEP which we hold pretty dear to us!
Sebastian says, "If you have trouble sleeping you should check if you're consuming enough iron as it can help treat insomnia."
He adds, "There are lots of natural ways to increase your iron levels. Incredible photosynthesising power-houses like Essential Spirulina are amazing at capturing the sun’s vital energy and are a great addition for building a broad spectrum of our nutritional levels, including those all-important iron levels.”
What are you waiting for? Start eating yourself to sleep!
9. Weight management
Did you know that iron is the MAIN vital nutrient we need to help us lose weight?
Neither did we, but it's super important for weight management! When your body's low in iron, it struggles to efficiently make enough red blood cells, which in turn decreases our appetite, rids us of energy (hence being a couch potato) and burns less calories.
So if you're finding yourself struggling to shed the extra pounds speak with your MD and ask to get your iron levels checked. It never hurts to ask.
10. Helps with PMS
Blood loss from periods leaves women with a greater risk of being anaemic, which is why we need more iron than men. So, unfortunately, periods do come with even MORE problems than just bog-standard PMS.
The good news? Iron-rich foods can really help relieve our PMS misery. According to a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, women who regularly consumed iron-rich foods were 30-40 percent less likely to suffer from PMS.
Well, if that's not a reason to indulge in steak and eggs we don't know what is...
Your body thrives from this vital nutrient! Will you be taking your iron levels seriously now? Tweet us @wewomenCA!
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