Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, affecting mainly children, women of childbearing age, pregnant women, frequent blood donors and people with certain medical conditions. (1)
Iron is a mineral found in a range of foods. It is used to transport oxygen around the body. It is also important for energy production, DNA synthesis, immune function and storing oxygen in our muscles.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency may be quite obvious like:
- Brain fog
Whilst other symptoms are less obvious:
- Hair loss
- Strange cravings
- Brittle spoon shaped nails
- Sore tongue
- Sores at the corners of your mouth
- Difficulty swallowing (2)
Iron Overload – Haemochromotosis
Haemochromotosis is a genetic condition which results in iron accumulating in the liver, heart, and other tissues. It usually occurs later in life and is treated by phlebotomy (removal of blood from the body, usually 500ml at a time). Iron overload from supplementation is very rare in healthy people without a genetic disposition, however due to the frequency of undetected inherited diseases, iron supplementation should be avoided if you are not iron deficient. (1)
Diseases associated with iron overload include:
- Liver cancer
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
- Cardiovascular disease
- Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
Iron and Menopause
Due to regular periods, women tend to be more prone to iron deficiency. Once a woman stops menstruating, and iron is no longer lost regularly, it accumulates in the body. (3) During menopause, estrogen levels drop, and iron levels increase. Although more research is needed, researchers have investigated iron’s role in women’s health after menopause:
- Iron and hot flushes – information from one study investigated found that serum ferritin levels (the amount of iron in the blood) are parallel with the prevalence of hot flushes, indicating that an increase in iron may play a role in hot flushes.
- Iron and osteoporosis – conditions of iron overload, such as haemochromatosis and sickle cell anaemia place patients at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
- Iron and skin ageing – Iron is excreted from the body in a number of ways, one of which is through the skin. In people with damaged skin cells, more iron is exposed to the skin and can lead to oxidative damage and skin ageing. Additionally, increased iron in the skin increases the oxidative stress when exposed to UV and further promotes skin ageing.
Iron is essential for oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, energy production and immune function. Iron deficiency is prevalent around the world, but iron overload can play an important part in our health as we age. If you are concerned about your iron levels, speak to your GP about getting your iron levels checked, or get in touch with us at AMC.
- Linus Pauling Institute, 2022, ‘Iron’, Linus Pauling Institute: Macronutrient Information Center, Oregon State University, viewed on 30 May 2022, https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/iron
- Higdon J, 2003, An Evidence-Based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals, Thieme, New York pages 138-142
- Jian J et al (2009), ‘Iron and Menopause: Does Increased Iron Affect the Health of Postmenopausal Women?’, Antioxidants and Redox Signalling 11(12): 2939-2943, viewed on 21 June 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2821138/