The element iron is vital to our system: without it, our body can’t function. For example it’s needed for the red pigment in our blood, making sure all the cells in our body get enough oxygen. Iron also plays a key role in muscle cells and in metabolism. What happens when our body isn’t getting enough? According to the WHO, between two and four billion people a year suffer from iron deficiency, one of the main factors behind disease. Women, children and older people are particularly at risk. Because they need more iron, competitive sportspeople often also suffer a deficiency. If the problem isn’t treated and you don’t increase your intake, it can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia.
Iron deficiency is characterised by various symptoms. But since these symptoms also often crop up in conjunction with other diseases, it’s difficult to recognise iron deficiency immediately. The strongest and most frequent symptom is fatigue. In addition to this, people suffering from iron deficiency can also experience weakness, headaches, listlessness and dizziness. Some also have difficulties concentrating and other problems.
Identifying iron deficiency requires a blood test. If it’s diagnosed, the most common treatment is an iron preparation in the form of tablets, drops or syrups. It takes around three to six months to replenish your body’s stocks of iron. It’s important to take iron under medical supervision, because if you treat yourself there’s a risk of iron overload, which can impair the functioning of your heart, liver and other organs.
Iron in the diet
One of the ways of preventing iron deficiency is a proper diet.
- Eat foods rich in iron. These include meat, wholegrain products and pulses.
- Take vitamin C, which improves your body’s absorption of iron.
- Avoid drinking caffeine-based drinks like coffee and black tea with meals, as they reduce the absorption of iron from plant foods.
- If you eat an iron-rich meal you should also steer clear of dairy products, as they inhibit the uptake of iron from animal products.