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What is iron & why is it important?

Iron is an important mineral that is necessary in the human body for many important things. One of the most common is the production of red blood cells which are needed to carry oxygen to the body. Anemia (low red blood cells) is the most commonly thought of consequence of low iron, but other symptoms may occur WITHOUT anemia. These include: extreme fatigue, easy bruising, poor attention span, trouble breathing, bad nails (fingers and/or toes), paleness, hair loss, or pica (unusual food cravings). Many patients (and doctors) think that if the patient does not have anemia, then iron deficiency is not present, but this could not be further from the truth. Foods rich in iron:

  • Red meat

  • Pork

  • Poultry

  • Seafood

  • Beans

  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach

  • Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots

  • Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas

  • Peas

Vitamin C is also very important for the absorption of iron. If a patient's diet is really low in vitamin C, then sometimes iron cannot be absorbed either. Foods high in vitamin C are mainly fruits and some veggies. Examples are lemon, lime, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwi, melons, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables and even broccoli!

Sometimes people eat the right things but still have low levels of iron, vitamin C and/or other vitamins and minerals. This could be due to poor absorption of these items by the gut. Bowel dysfunction is extremely common and may or may not exhibit symptoms traditionally considered "bowel problems" such as gas, bloating, chronic constipation, pain and more! Patient with multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies will have a multitude of symptoms and need to be testing for food sensitivities.

Other causes of iron deficiency can be blood loss or the body's destruction of its own blood cells (which then requires more and more iron and to make more. Ask you doctor to check your blood count (CBC) along with iron studies (serum iron and ferritin) and a vitamin C level if you have symptoms of iron deficiency.

Who is at risk for iron deficiency? Women of childbearing age (especially if they have heavy periods), pregnant women, people with poor quality diet, people who do not eat meat or foods high in iron, people who donate blood frequently (even when the blood counts are high), patients with bowel/gut problems and children with medical problems or who were born prematurely.

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