Are you experiencing ailments such as cravings, brain fog, irritability, anxiety, even heavy menstrual flow? Granted, other causes for these issues exist. However, more often than not, the above conditions, especially when two or more of them occur together, are caused by an iron deficiency.
Whether the deficiency stems from a poor diet or a condition that affects iron absorption thereby leading to the deficiency, there are simple ways to ensure adequate iron intake and absorption.
What Is the Role of Iron in the Body?
Iron is one of the most essential minerals the human body needs to avoid dysfunction. According to the National Institute of Health, iron is needed to make hemoglobin, connective tissues, and even some hormones. Iron is also necessary for the transfer of oxygen throughout the body. Without oxygen, the body fails to metabolize foods, repair cells and produce energy. In cases of iron deficiency, red blood cells are unable to carry oxygen throughout the body.
What Are the Types of Iron?
There exist two main types of iron: non-heme and heme. Heme iron is from animal sources, beef being the most rife with iron. Non-heme iron is typically more healthy because it comes from plants. Absorption from non-heme iron is more challenging.
The fact that non-heme iron is so difficult to absorb may elicit a bit of a conundrum for vegetarians and vegans. But there are some plants that can provide adequate iron intake.
This video from Health.Mind.Body.Spirit lists some of the best fruits for iron deficiency.
Beyond the types of iron are the various preparations. The three forms in which iron is prepared for supplementation are ferrous fumarate, ferrous sulfate and ferrous gluconate.
According to authors Alleyne, Horne and Miller, ferrous sulfate provides twice as much iron as gluconate and sulfate.
What Are Some of the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia?
There is a long list of how Iron deficiency can wreak havoc on the body. Of all the issues listed below, note that some can lead to more serious health issues.
- hair loss
- hormonal imbalance
- chest pain
- heavier menstrual flow (due to thinning of the blood)
- shortness of breath
- Pica(unusual cravings for ice, chalk, dirt, or clay)
- Nutritional deficiencies
- heart palpitations
- chronic infections
When Should I Take Iron Supplements?
To prevent and rectify low iron, it’s often recommended to take supplements, especially when dealing with extreme cases. Supplements can work faster than relying solely on one’s diet to raise iron levels. With that said, there are ideal times to take iron so that you get the best results. Use the following guidelines to help you reap the benefits of your supplements.
#1. Avoid Taking Iron at Night
The actual time of day you should take iron depends on the individual. It would seem logical to avoid taking iron at night due to its energizing effects causing insomnia.
Therefore, the morning is an ideal time and provides sustained energy to perform daily tasks.
On the other hand, the issue can be a little complex. For instance, some sufferers of iron deficiency anemia experience heart racing, pounding, and palpitations that may cause insomnia, thus nightly iron intake quells the heart muscle and induces sleep.
Based on a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute article, iron deficiency can cause major heart problems since the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the entire body. In such cases, one could end up with a heart murmur, an irregular heartbeat or, worst case scenario, heart failure.
So it’s important to take your iron supplement when you notice that your heart is in distress, no matter what time of day. As mentioned, this condition can cause sleeplessness, so taking iron at night could be the difference between a grumpy morning and smooth sailing.
#2. Prefer Morning
It’s generally a routine to take multivitamins at the same time each day, usually in the mornings. However, iron should be taken in isolation, not with the rest of your supplements. There are plenty of nutrients that inhibit absorption or even compete with iron to be absorbed.
For instance, another NIH article, written by authors Alleyne, Horne and Miller lists common multivitamin nutrients that inhibit absorption:
In addition to some components of multivitamins, popular beverages like tea and coffee can severely inhibit iron absorption. Authors Zijp, Korver, and Tijburg mention in their article that polyphenols and phytates, common elements in tea and coffee prevent iron absorption, especially if a person’s diet relies more on non-heme, or plant-based, iron, than heme iron.
However, consuming tea and coffee separate from iron intake can help prevent malabsorption. Furthermore, coffee and tea drinkers should consider consuming ascorbic acid with iron or animal products such as poultry, fish, and meat.
#3. Add Facilitators For Best Absorption
So instead of wasting a dose of iron by taking it with inhibitors, consider adding facilitators. Alleyne, Horne, and Miller state the following as effective facilitating agents:
- Taking iron without food
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid is one of the most common enhancers of iron absorption. Teucher, Olivares, and Cori claim ascorbic acid to be quite efficient at improving iron absorption from non-heme iron sources.
Acidic foods are useful in that they usually contain high amounts of vitamin C. As for taking iron without food, there exists no hindrance when iron supplements are simply taken with water. Aside from possible stomach upset, you can’t go wrong.
Here’s a list of some of the best Iron supplements available online. They are suitable for Muslims, vegans and vegetarians.
Keeping in mind that iron is one of the most essential minerals and that a lack thereof can lead to serious ailments, maintaining adequate amounts of iron in the body is of utmost importance.
Even more imperative is knowing how to consume iron to achieve all health benefits it can offer. Following the above guidelines and advice will ensure that you are on your way to improving your health with the proper amount of iron.