If you suffer from iron deficiency anemia, you might be looking to increase your iron intake naturally. Indeed, iron is an important mineral involved in a variety of biological processes. Most notably, it plays a major role in the transfer of oxygen to tissues and muscles. However, millions of people around the world suffer from iron deficiency especially pregnant women and children.

Indeed, in 2011, the World Health Organization published a report according to which 29% of women of childbearing age suffer from iron deficiency anemia. And among pregnant women, this figure is even higher.

What is iron deficiency

An iron deficiency develops when the intakes are lower than the needs, eventually affecting physiological functions and having consequences on health and well-being.

The human body recycles and retains a large part of the iron it intakes, but there are still daily losses to compensate. On average, an adult stores between 1 and 4 g of iron in their body. About 1 mg of iron is lost each day through the death of cells.

Women in pre-menopause have an average daily loss of about 2 mg. Children and adolescents have constantly increasing needs during growth and puberty.

Pregnant women have a great need for iron during pregnancy because of the rapid development of the placenta and the fetus.

If the reserves are not replenished, then a more serious disease develops – iron deficiency anemia. This is a condition when iron is not enough for the formation of hemoglobin in the erythrocytes. The amount of oxygen transported in the blood then decreases, which leads to oxygen starvation of the tissues of the whole organism.

Causes of iron deficiency

Iron deficiency occurs as a result of depletion of iron reserves in the body, when iron absorption for a long period does not keep up with the metabolic needs for iron, or when there is a sharp loss of iron associated with blood loss.

The main causes of iron deficiency are:

  • heavy menstrual or uterine blood loss,
  • blood loss during surgical interventions,
  • taking anticoagulants or antiplatelet agents,
  • frequent blood donation,
  • vegetarianism and anorexia,
  • chronic diseases with impaired absorption of iron (various gastro-enterological pathologies, chronic heart disease, renal failure).

People most at risk of iron deficiency are pregnant women, premature babies, and children during periods of intensive growth, women with heavy periods, and vegetarians. Very often, iron deficiency occurs in adolescent girls, because menstrual iron losses are superimposed on the need for rapid growth.

When the body’s iron reserves are insufficient, hemoglobin synthesis is disrupted, and symptoms of iron deficiency and anemia appear.

Symptoms of Iron deficiency

Iron deficiency can manifest itself through various symptoms. They often arise in an insidious way and are not clearly attributable to a cause. The signs intensify as the iron deficiency worsens.

Many people are unaware that they have an iron deficiency and think that their fatigue, the most common symptom, is due to their stressful daily life or a current lack of sleep.

Common symptoms

Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency are very general and can be attributed to other causes as well. These include:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Sleeping troubles
  • Headache

Typical symptoms

Other symptoms are better indicators of a possible iron deficiency, especially if they occur in combination with the above symptoms:

  • Hair loss
  • Pale skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Cracked lip commissures
  • Vulnerability to infections
  • Palpitations and rapid heartbeat

If you are suffering from these symptoms, it is recommended that you see your doctor to have your iron levels checked.

Symptoms of advanced deficiency

If an iron deficiency goes undetected and therefore untreated for a long time, the symptoms can intensify and lead to anemia (called iron deficiency anemia):

  • Chronic exhaustion and lack of energy (chronic fatigue syndrome)
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Marked sensitivity to cold
  • Shortness of breath or respiratory distress

Foods rich in iron

If you suffer from iron deficiency and want to replenish your iron reserves naturally, there are a number of foods that can help you achieve this goal.

Foods of animal origin that are rich in iron

  • Organ meats: organ meats are the most iron-rich foods. Among them, pan-fried black pudding comes first with 22.8 mg of iron per 100g. Liver and kidneys are also great sources of iron.
  • Red meats: in addition to a high level of protein, 100g of beef provides around 5mg of iron, which is twice as much as white meats (veal or poultry). Tip: If you prefer white meats, choose the darker parts (like the thighs), which are the highest in iron.
  • Seashells: are you a fan of seafood? Then, you’re in luck if you want to replenish your iron reserves. clams, periwinkles or even mussels are rich in iron.
  • Fish: Once or twice a week, opt for so-called “blue” fish such as tuna, sardines, herring, or grilled mackerel, which are the fish containing the most iron.

Plant-based foods that are rich in iron

  • Algae: algae such as sea lettuce or spirulina are great allies to meet your iron needs.
  • Dried vegetables: to accompany your meat and fish, think of lentils, chickpeas, or red beans. They contain on average 3mg of iron per 100g, great to get rid of your iron deficiency.
  • Fortified cereals: cereals called “vitamin-enriched” are excellent for providing you with part of your iron needs.
  • Cocoa: dark chocolate is one of the richest foods in iron. Two small squares of dark chocolate at coffee time provide a good supplement of iron.
  • Thyme: thyme is an aromatic herb that abounds in iron. In 100g, you will find 30mg of iron. Don’t hesitate to season and flavor your cooked meals with this magical herb!
  • Tofu: tofu is full of nutrients including obviously iron, calcium in addition to a lot of proteins.
  • Dried apricots: with 4.3 mg per 100g, dried apricots are a gourmet solution to reach the recommended intake of iron.

Avoid over consumption

While iron deficiency can lead to serious health problems, the opposite is also true. An excessive intake of iron can also cause major issues to your health.

Indeed, too much iron affects the organs in which it accumulates: liver, heart, pancreas, skin, etc… As a result, the body ages prematurely. Thus, as much as you need iron, you should respect the daily recommended doses to avoid complications.

Joseph Mandell

Mandell is currently working towards a medical degree from the University of Central Florida. His main passions include kayaking, playing soccer and tasting good food. He covers mostly science, health and environmental stories for the Scientific Origin.