Iron is more than just a metal used in golf clubs, skillets, and medieval weapons. It’s also an essential mineral that humans need to transport oxygen throughout our bodies. If we don’t get enough iron in our diets, we are at risk for a condition called iron deficiency anemia.
We’ll discuss anemia more in a second, but first, let’s look at the important health effects of iron in our bodies.
Iron’s Role in Oxygenation
Our body needs iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells. Hemoglobin has a high oxygen-binding capacity; in fact, just one hemoglobin molecule can carry four oxygen molecules. The hemoglobin in red blood cells takes oxygen from the lungs and transports it to cells throughout the body, where it produces energy.
What Happens When We Are Iron-Deficient?
If you don’t get enough iron in your diet, you can’t produce enough healthy red blood cells, and your body won’t get enough oxygen. Insufficient iron can lead to anemia symptoms, such as low energy, weakness, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. You might also find yourself getting winded easily after exerting yourself, even if you’re in good shape.
Iron deficiency anemia is more common than you might think. In fact, low iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the US. Women are at a higher risk than men for developing anemia because they lose blood every month during their period.
How to Treat Anemia
Fortunately, anemia can almost always be easily treated. If you think you’re iron deficient, one thing you can do is to try to incorporate more iron-rich foods into your diet. These could include:
• Leafy green vegetables (such as spinach)
• Iron-fortified cereals, pasta, and bread
If you’re suffering from iron deficiency, spinach is a great iron-rich food to add to your diet.
If you’re unable to meet your recommended daily iron intake (8mg for men, 18mg for women, and 27mg for pregnant women) through diet alone, you may benefit from an iron supplement. Iron supplements are readily available over the counter, but be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about iron deficiency or iron supplement use.