Iron Supplementation: Why Iron Is So Important & How to Get More
Low iron and iron deficiencies are incredibly common, with women being the most at risk. Iron is a vital mineral that our bodies need for blood production, which affects the entire body in different ways. When we don’t get the proper amount of iron in our diets, we can become iron deficient, which can lead to more serious ramifications.
In this article, we’ll cover what iron does in the body, how to tell if you need to supplement the mineral, and how to use vitamin C, vitamin B, and folic acid to get the most benefits.
What is Iron?
Iron is a mineral that our bodies use to maintain many functions, the most important of which is the production of hemoglobin. About 70% of the body’s iron is in hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the molecule in the red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is also responsible for producing myoglobin, which is a protein that brings oxygen to the muscles. Additionally, iron is necessary for the production of hormones, as well as for maintaining healthy cells, nails, hair, and skin.
We get our iron through the food that we eat. When you eat something containing iron, the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract absorb the iron. From there, it is released into the bloodstream. This is where transferrin, a protein, attaches to it before delivering it to the liver.
Our bodies store iron in the liver and eventually release it to make new red blood cells. Over time, red blood cells made from iron become unable to function and are re-absorbed by the spleen. We also get iron from recycling these old cells
Why Do People Struggle to Get Enough Iron?
When the stores of iron in your body get too low, you can become iron deficient. Causes of iron deficiency in adults include diet, blood loss, exercise, increased demand for iron, and the inability to absorb iron.
Although food is the main source of iron, your body is only able to absorb a small amount of it and you may become iron deficient when you don’t eat enough foods containing iron. There are two types of iron that we can get from food: haem iron, which comes from animal meat, and non-haem iron, which comes from plant-based foods. The body can absorb haem iron more easily, which means people who eat meat tend to be less likely to be iron deficient than vegetarians or vegans. Some people may be iron deficient due to a lack of access to enough fresh foods, or due to chronic dieting.
Since 70% of our iron is found in the blood, blood loss is an obvious risk for iron deficiency. This usually occurs when someone has chronic, or ongoing, blood loss. People who have regular nosebleeds, heavy menstrual periods, polyps or cancer in the large intestine, or who donate blood often may be at risk.
Regular exercise increases the need for iron. When we do vigorous training, we use iron to produce extra red blood cells. Then, we lose the iron through sweating. This is why iron deficiency is of great concern for athletes.
Increased Demand for Iron
People who are pregnant or breastfeeding need more iron. For pregnant people, the body needs more iron to make the additional blood needed to supply oxygen to the baby. Pregnant people need double the iron supply that they normally need. Similarly, breastfeeding mothers need additional iron to produce breastmilk. Without proper iron, they will feel tired and fatigued.
Inability to Absorb Iron
Even healthy adults only absorb 10 to 15% of the dietary iron they consume. However, some people’s bodies are even less efficient at absorbing the iron in food.
The following groups are considered to be at high risk for iron deficiency:
- Babies & toddlers
- Teenagers, particularly teenage girls
- Pregnant & lactating women
- Menstruating women
- Female athletes
How Can I Tell If I Need to Supplement Iron?
It’s always best to consult a doctor to get blood work done and determine if you need to supplement any vitamins or minerals. However, the following are common signs that you may benefit from supplementing iron.
One of the most common signs of low iron is experiencing unusual tiredness. When the body lacks iron, it lacks hemoglobin. When this happens, you’re getting less oxygen delivered to the rest of your body from the lungs, which makes muscles feel fatigued.
Headaches are particularly common in women who have low iron. The link between these two issues is still unclear, however, researchers believe that the relationship between estrogen levels and altered dopamine levels may play a part in the issue.
Pale or Dry Skin and Hair
The hemoglobin in the red blood cells is what makes blood red and our skin gets its warm, rosy color from the blood underneath. When someone is low or deficient in iron, they may notice that their face is paler than it once was. That same paleness may be found on the insides of lips, lower eyelids, gums, and nails.
Additionally, when the levels of hemoglobin lower due to iron deficiency, the amount of oxygen available for hair growth and healthy skin lowers. This can cause hair loss or dry, damaged hair and skin.
There are many reasons the nails can become brittle and flakey. While this is a less common sign of iron deficiency, it does occur from time to time. Nails can begin to chip and crack easily. Over time, they become spoon-shaped, with dips in the center of the nail, the same way a spoon dips in the middle.
Heart palpitations are when it feels like your heart has an extra beat or skips a beat. It can feel like your heart is fluttering, pounding, or even racing. These noticeably different heartbeats may be associated with iron deficiency. This is because iron deficiencies cause low levels of oxygen in the body, which makes the heart work overtime to try to pump out more oxygen. This can sometimes lead to heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats.
Restless leg syndrome can cause a strange and unpleasant itchy or crawling sensation in the legs and feet. It can also make you have an intense urge to move your legs while resting. Typically, people experience this at night, making it difficult to sleep. While the cause of this syndrome is still unknown, it has been linked to iron deficiency.
Sore or Swollen Tongue and Mouth
Iron deficiency can cause issues in the mouth, including a pale, swollen, or inflamed tongue. It can also cause a burning feeling in the mouth, mouth ulcers, dry mouth, and sore cracks at the corners of the mouth.
Since hemoglobin helps your red blood cells transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of your body, low levels of hemoglobin can cause shortness of breath. When attempting normal activities, like walking, your muscles aren’t receiving the oxygen that they need and your breathing rate will increase as your body struggles to get enough oxygen.
How Much Iron Do I Need?
For adults, the minimum recommended daily requirement is 1.8mg. You can get iron from a variety of natural, whole foods, including meat and poultry, seafood, tofu, greens, and cruciferous vegetables. Despite the plentiful sources, it’s important to remember that your body is only absorbing 10% to 30% of what you’ve eaten, with some sources being harder to absorb than others.
Herbatech’s Iron gummies contain 5 grams of iron each, so you can be sure that your body is absorbing enough iron. Supplementation is helpful because it ensures that you’re getting adequate amounts of iron, rather than tracking your food and calculating how much you’re getting from each food.
Benefits of Supplementing with Iron
Supplementing iron can increase iron levels in your body and, over time, you will begin to feel the effects of it. As the iron helps to boost the hemoglobin in your blood, you’ll notice a variety of benefits in how you feel as well as your appearance.
As mentioned earlier, 70% of the iron found in the body is in our hemoglobin. When you have low iron and begin supplementing, your body will start to use that iron to boost hemoglobin production. This is the first and most important step to gaining the rest of the benefits of iron supplementation.
Low iron levels can make you feel tired and fatigued, often with no obvious reason. When you supplement iron and begin producing more hemoglobin, the muscles in your body will begin receiving more oxygen which will make you feel less fatigued.
Cognitive levels drop with iron deficiency, which means that the ability to pay attention and concentrate is also affected. When you restore your iron levels, you will notice that your ability to focus and perform cognitively improves.
With iron-rich hemoglobin pumping oxygen to the muscles, your muscle tissue will be able to better repair itself and avoid inflammation, increasing endurance for both everyday activities and more intense workouts.
Some research has shown that there’s a connection between sleep issues and low iron. For people experiencing restless sleep or restless leg syndrome, supplementing with iron can help restore your mineral levels and bring about better sleep.
Iron-rich hemoglobin delivers oxygen, which is key for repairing damaged tissues, cells, and organs. It’s also important for the body’s ability to fight off any infections or diseases. When you supplement with iron, you help boost your immune system by ensuring it has a steady supply of iron and hemoglobin for healing purposes.
Hemoglobin impacts the production of platelets, which play a role in blood clotting. For people with low iron, this can mean frequent bruising or bruising easily, because the hemoglobin isn’t assisting platelets with internal clotting. Supplementing with iron may help to reduce this issue by restoring iron and hemoglobin levels.
Improves Hair, Skin, & Nails
Supplementing iron can bring life back to pale skin, as hemoglobin gives the blood under the skin its red color. The hair, skin, and nails also benefit from the increased oxygen that supplementing iron brings about, which can increase growth and decrease any dull appearances.
Get the Most Out of Iron Supplements with Vitamin C, Vitamin B, and Folic Acid
Our inability to absorb iron efficiently is well documented, so it’s important to take a few extra steps to ensure you get the best results from your iron supplement. First, you should include vitamin C when taking iron. Vitamin C has been shown to enhance the absorption of iron because it captures non-heme iron and stores it in a more easily-absorbable form for your body. You can get vitamin C through citrus fruits or vegetables, or via a supplement.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of low iron, you may also benefit from other vitamins to aid in the production of red blood cells. Vitamin B, especially vitamin B-12, is essential for the production of healthy blood cells. Folic acid is another key player for healthy red blood cells, so it may be helpful to supplement with this as well.
Ultimately, lots of people may benefit from supplementing with iron. The human body struggles to effectively absorb the iron that we eat, and natural human conditions, like pregnancy or menstruation, can cause an increased need for the mineral. Keep in mind that it’s important to speak with your doctor before supplementing any vitamins. If you’re experiencing any combination of symptoms of low iron, have your blood tested and explore the possibility of supplementing with iron. When you do choose to supplement it, be sure to take vitamin B, vitamin C, and folic acid to ensure that you’re giving your body the best nutrition for the effective production of red blood cells and a healthy life.