I had a feeling something was off when my exercise tolerance started to decrease and my nails became increasingly brittle and fragile. I had just become a plant-based eater.
My close friend had been experiencing restless leg syndrome and chronic fatigue for close to a year before she got diagnosed with Celiac Disease.
We both received a diagnosis of iron deficiency.
Why do we care about iron? Iron is essential in maintaining many body functions, including the production of hemoglobin, the molecule in your blood that carries oxygen. Iron is also necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails. It is no surprise that symptoms of iron deficiency includes fatigue and weakness.
Iron deficiency is quite prevalent, as it affects 20-25% of the worlds population. Some factors that can contribute to iron deficiency include:
A) inadequate intake of dietary iron
B) consumption of poorly available forms of iron
C) or diminished iron absorption due to dietary inhibitors
D) Increased demands for iron because of growth, menstrual losses, or pregnancy
For me, factors A through D were present for my iron deficiency. My diagnosis was secondary to becoming a plant-based eater and not adding in enough iron-rich food sources into my diet. My friends diagnosis was secondary to malabsorption from celiac disease.
Early Diagnosis is Important
I’m thankful that my iron deficiency was caught fairly early. If iron deficiency anaemia is left untreated, it can make you more susceptible to illness and infection, as a lack of iron affects the body’s natural defence system (the immune system).
Severe iron deficiency anaemia may increase your risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs, such as an abnormally fast heartbeat (tachycardia) or heart failure, where your heart is unable to pump enough blood around your body at the right pressure. Pregnant women with severe or untreated anaemia also have a higher risk of complications before and after birth.
Are you at risk for iron deficiency? Check out the adult symptom checker here.
Getting Enough Iron
I do make a good effort to include enough iron-rich sources in my diet daily (see list below). I try to get at least 18 mg of iron from foods each day. In addition to including iron-rich foods in my diet, I try to:
a) drink tea between rather than during meals; tea contains tannins, compounds that inhibit iron absorption
b) cook with a cast-iron pan to increase iron absorption and
c) add a source of vitamin C at every meal, as vitamin C enhances non-heme iron absorption
Top Iron-Rich Plant Sources
- Lentils: 7 mg per 1 cup
- Cooked Spinach: 7 mg per cup
- Dried Prunes: 5 mg per 1/4 cup
- Instant Oatmeal/All-Bran Cereal/Raisin Bran: 4-5 mg per 1 cup
- Tofu (firm): 4 mg per 1 cup
- Edamame: 4 mg per 1 cup
- Blackstrap Molasses: 3.6 mg per 1 tbsp
- Pumpkin Seeds: 3 mg per 1/4 cup
When Diet Isn’t Enough
When I was first diagnosed with iron deficiency, I was started on an iron supplement. However, I did experience some uncomfortable side effects from the iron supplements. For anyone who have ever been on an iron supplement, you know what I am talking about. I found the iron salt supplements (Ferrous Gluconate/Sulfate) irritated my digestive system.
This is when I switched to an iron polysaccharide, which was FeraMAX®. The polysaccharide-iron complex left me with a lot less side effects – really minimal side effects. Another advantage was that I only needed to take one supplement daily of FeraMAX® 150, as it provided 150 mg of elemental iron vs 2-3 daily doses that I used to take of the iron salt supplements.
What a difference FeraMAX® made!
In summary, I want you to remember the following:
- Iron deficiency is quite prevalent worldwide, and a number of factors can contribute
- The importance of early diagnosis of iron deficiency and getting your symptoms checked
- It is possible to reverse iron deficiency with the correct diet and supplementation!