Becoming An Iron Man

With the hustle and bustle of one’s daily life, feeling constantly tired and run down has become quite universal. Whether it be from a long day in school, sitting at work or getting physical activities done, sometimes sleep and proper rest just doesn’t cut it. Unbeknown to most, fatigue can be traced down to the minerals that flow through the body, and that this looming sense of tiredness is an indication of how one may be lacking in certain essential nutrients.

Iron is one of the most vital minerals to do work around the body. It is important to the proper function of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that supports transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Two-thirds of iron in the body is in hemoglobin to properly carry out this task. Since it is found in such important components, it also assists in the function of the immune system.

Iron is also needed in maintaining healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails, making it evident when one lacks this mineral. Deficiency is quite common among people, affecting almost 10% of women according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most may not attribute certain symptoms to iron deficiency, it’s pretty easy to tell when one lacks it.

The lack of healthy red blood cells leads to the body not getting an optimal amount of oxygen. With this, fatigue occurs. This kind of exhaustion can create a domino effect on the brain and to the immune system, making them slow down and be more susceptible to infections.

A range of symptoms that include shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, cold hands and feet, brittle nails and hair loss, mouth and tongue sores indicate iron deficiency, but while these may be present, some wait until they are diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia until they realize the cause of their daily burdens. A simple blood test can determine an individual’s level of deficiency.

What are the benefits of Iron?

Most iron benefits are usually taken for granted until a deficiency proves how important it is. Iron helps in preserving a few functions such as general energy and active focus, regulating gastrointestinal processes and body temperature. This explains why its benefits are just as fundamental in different parts of the body.

1. Healthy pregnancy
Iron is highly regarded for pregnant women, for their blood flow accounts for two beating hearts. Blood volume and red blood cell reproduction highly increase to supply the fetus with all the oxygen and nutrients that it needs, which is why iron intake becomes twice as important.

The stakes may be higher during pregnancies, for a deficiency may increase the risk of babies being born too early or too small. It may also cause impaired cognitive and behavioral development in infants if the pregnancy was iron deficient. These babies may also be born with weaker immune systems and may be more susceptible to several infections. To stay safe, pregnant women and those with gastrointestinal disorders must regularly get checked for Crohn’s ulcerative colitis and celiac disease.

Iron supplements are very much encouraged for pregnant women, and current research is trying to figure out if supplementation should be recommended to all pregnant women alike. Some believe that a daily intake of 30 to 60 milligrams of iron should be taken by these women, regardless of their iron levels.

2. Boosts Energy
Since hemoglobin is produced through iron, it heavily impacts the amount of energy that the body can produce. The muscles and brain rely on the iron present in the body and dictate both mental and physical performance, and a lack of focus and reduced stamina in doing physical activities may be attributed to iron deficiency.

3. Athletic Performance and Muscle Strength
As previously mentioned, physical activities may be dependent on the amount of iron in the body, which is why athletes may want to supplement this to be able to perform at their best shape. Since they are more active than the average person, iron deficiency deems more common among athletes, especially in females, for their stamina requires more iron functioning around the body. Female endurance athletes are usually recommended to increase their intake to make sure they don’t grow deficient.

Low iron may also cause the loss of muscle tone and elasticity, for this is important in providing oxygen for muscle contraction as well. A deficiency may decrease one’s athletic performance and make the immune system weaker, for the physical exertion causes the body to struggle in transporting oxygen to the muscles and the rest of the systems. Muscle weakness is also generally a common sign of anemia.

For active individuals, iron deficiency may inflame muscles, whereas iron-rich hemoglobin can reduce this for it actively repairs tissues.

4. Treats Anemia
The main condition caused by iron deficiency is anemia, one of the most widespread nutritional deficiencies in the world. It is a result of low hemoglobin and may cause regular fatigue, dizziness, heart palpitations and an overall feeling of weakness. Iron supplements help aid this condition to avoid its symptoms.

It may also boost hemoglobin production to help transport more oxygen into the blood to replace the amount of blood that individuals lose from different circumstances. Women lose blood regularly due to their menstruation, which is why they are more susceptible to iron deficiency.

5. Reduces Fatigue
Fatigue is a common sense of constant tiredness that a lot of people experience due to different stressors. When it persists, it may well be an indication of iron deficiency– one of the reasons why women tend to be more sluggish during their cycles as well.

Fatigue doesn’t only mean being tired and sleepy, it constitutes being so exhausted that going about one’s daily routine seems more tasking than usual, and want to simply stay in bed from being to physically and mentally drained. It also affects the quality of sleep that one gets, and a deficiency may also be to blame for issues such as sleep apnea and insomnia.

A way to combat this is by taking food that is rich in iron or supplementing. Research claims to have improved sleep quality in children with autism through iron therapy.

6. Improves Focus
Cognitive levels are known to drop with iron deficiency, as a result of not having enough oxygen to optimally send blood around the different parts of the body. It is practically immediate that a person loses his focus when iron levels are not in a good place, which is why supplementation or eating iron-rich foods may help people who struggle in this aspect.

7. Reduces Bruising
Some people bruise easier than most, and it can also be attributed to a lack of iron. Hemoglobin greatly affects the production and function of platelets, which controls blood clotting. Bruises from a small bump or two may indicate that internal clotting isn’t working as well as it should be and that more iron needs to be taken.

Food Sources

Before supplementing, consider the fact that there is a wide array of accessible foods that contain a good amount of iron:

1. Shellfish
Shellfish are tasty and can be cooked in many ways. It also contains a good deal of iron, but clams, oysters and mussels are the best sources for it. A 100-gram serving of clams may contain up to 28 mg of iron, 26 grams of protein and HDL cholesterol that is good for the heart.

It may, however, vary depending on its source and how it is cooked. The iron found in this is heme iron, which is more easily absorbed by the body as compared to non-heme, which is commonly found in plants. While some have concerns about certain types of shellfish containing mercury and other toxins, its benefits very much outweigh these risks.

2. Spinach
Spinach is considered a superfood because of the nutrients that it’s packed with for the number of calories that it comes with. A 100-gram serving of spinach contains 3.6 mg of non-heme iron and is also a great source of vitamin C which helps iron absorption.

It also is rich in antioxidants called carotenoids that reduce the risk of cancer, decrease inflammation and promotes eye health. The body’s absorption of the nutrients in spinach is boosted when it is taken with fat, which is why it is encouraged to eat this with olive oil.

3. Liver
While it may not be a crowd favorite, liver and other organ meats come with a hefty amount of nutrients. A good serving of iron can also be found in kidneys, brains, and hearts. A 100-gram serving of beef liver contains 6.5 mg of iron.

Organ meats also come with other essential nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin A, copper and selenium. It is also high in protein and is the best source of choline, which promotes brain and liver health that most people tend to overlook.

4. Legumes
Another good plant-based option would be legumes, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, and soybeans. About 200 grams of cooked lentils contains 6.6. Mg of iron. They are also a good source of folate, magnesium, and potassium.

Legumes have also been found to reduce inflammation in people with diabetes and decrease heart disease risk for people with metabolic syndrome, a group of health problems. It also helps in losing weight, as they are high in soluble fiber that helps in reducing calorie intake.

Iron absorption is boosted when legumes are combined with foods high in vitamin Cm like tomatoes, greens, and citrus fruits.

5. Red Meat
Red meat is not only tasty but also comes with different nutrients that can boost one’s healthy diet. A 100-gram serving of ground beef contains 2.7 mg of iron, as well as a good amount of protein, zinc, selenium and B vitamins.

Some researchers have found that iron deficiency is less likely in people who eat meat, poultry, and fish regularly. Red meat is also one of the most accessible sources of heme iron, making it essential in the diet of those are prone to anemia. Studies have shown that women who consume meat retain iron better than those who take supplements after an aerobic exercise.

6. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds may just seem like a good snack to munch on, but it comes with a good amount of iron as well. 28 grams of pumpkin seeds may contain 4.2 mg of iron and is a good source of vitamin K, zinc and manganese. It’s also a great source of magnesium, which many individuals are also prone to be deficient in. It helps reduce the risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, and depression.

7. Quinoa
Quinoa, another superfood, is what’s called a pseudocereal. A 185-gram cup of this provides 2.8 mg of iron, as well as folate, magnesium, copper, and manganese. It also contains more protein than other grains and has no gluten. It’s also a good antioxidant, which helps protect cells from free radical damage.

8. Turkey
Besides being a holiday staple for hearty meals, turkey meat, especially its dark meat, is a good source of iron. A 100-gram portion contains 2.3 mg of iron, while white portions have about 1.3 mg. It is also a hefty protein source, containing 29 grams per serving, as well as B vitamins and minerals such as zinc and selenium.

It also supports weight loss, for a protein-heavy serving quickly makes an individual full and increases one’s metabolic rate.

9. Broccoli
Broccoli is one of the most nutritious among the greens. A 156-gram serving of cooked broccoli contains 1 mg of iron and is greatly rich in vitamin C which helps in better iron absorption. It is also high in folate, contains vitamin K and has about 6 grams of fiber.

Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family alongside cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage which contains indole, sulforaphane, and glucosinolates– plant compounds that combat cancer.

10. Tofu
Tofu is a famous source of protein for plant-based eaters, and it also contains a good amount of iron. A 126-gram serving of this soy-based food provides about 3.6 mg of iron and is also a source of thiamine and other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and selenium. It also has a hefty 20 grams of protein per serving.

It also contains unique compounds called isoflavones, which have been attributed to improving insulin sensitivity, relieving menopausal symptoms and decreasing the risk of heart disease. It can be served through several savory and sweet ways.

11. Dark Chocolate
For those with a sweet tooth, dark chocolate also deems as a reliable source of iron. 28 grams of this dessert contains 3.3 mg of iron, as well as copper and magnesium. It also has prebiotic fiber, which helps good bacteria in the gut.

Dark chocolate is also now known as an esteemed antioxidant alongside cocoa, for a study found that these have more antioxidant activity than juices from acai berries and blueberries. It also reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes and serves as a healthy dessert alternative. To get the maximum benefits of cocoa, it’s best to consume chocolate that contains 70% of this.

Supplementation is recommended for those who do not get enough iron in their respective diets, but consuming enough in the diet is still well-preferred for food items that have other nutrients that support better iron absorption in the body.

Risks Associated With Low Iron Levels

When supplementing, taking a small dose and gradually building it up is recommended to avoid certain side effects such as nausea, vomiting, dark stools, diarrhea, and constipation. Eating fiber-rich foods may combat this effect.

Healthy adults are less prone to these side effects for their body and have systems that regulate iron intake, whereas people with the inherited condition hemochromatosis, also known as iron overload, are not as lucky. A normal body absorbs about 10% of the iron that it consumes, while those with hemochromatosis absorb 30%, and this significant difference requires them to be very meticulous with their intake. This excess iron trickles down to organs such as the liver, heart, and pancreas, and may cause conditions such as cirrhosis, heart failure, and diabetes.

Iron supplementation also varies depending on an individual’s sex and age. For instance, supplementation is especially crucial in children for they do not need iron as much as adults do, and an overdose may be detrimental to their health. Iron poisoning is an actual possibility, and its symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dehydration, and bloody stool in children.

Adult supplementation may entail a hefty 60 to 120 mg of iron per day and might have to be divided into smaller doses within the day to avoid upsetting the stomach.

When it comes to consuming just the right amount of iron, one must understand and listen to the needs of his body, for, in this case, taking more than what is enough may cause more bad than good. Individuals need to strike a balance between their diet and daily activities to have these elements complement each other, and let them be able to live their best lives.