What role does iron deficiency play?
Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency disease in humans worldwide. The body cannot produce iron itself; therefore, iron must be supplied through food. The causes for deficiency are various, with increased menstrual bleeding and malnutrition being the most common reasons. In Europe, about 15% of all women between 15 and 45 years of age suffer from iron deficiency and about 3% from chronic iron deficiency anaemia.
As an essential trace element, iron is involved in many vital processes of the human body, especially in blood formation. However, the importance of iron goes far beyond this; iron plays a central and vital role in many metabolic processes.
Why is iron so important, especially for women?
On average, you lose about 50 ml of blood and thus about 25 mg of iron during each menstruation. If this loss is not covered by the daily intake of iron, this can lead to iron deficiency.
If you exercise often (which is advantageous), this also increases your iron requirements - more iron than usual is excreted in sweat and urine. The increase in energy production and oxygen transport consumes more iron. If you are on a low meat or vegan diet, the risk of iron deficiency increases even further. Certain foods such as coffee, dairy products or wheat flour also inhibit the natural absorption of iron.
This iron deficiency can become even more pronounced during pregnancy. A pregnant woman has a significantly increased iron requirement in order to supply the developing child.
How does iron deficiency become noticeable?
Since the early symptoms of iron deficiency are often not very specific, iron deficiency is often only detected in everyday life in its clinically easily recognizable form of so-called iron deficiency anemia (anaemia). Many people live with iron deficiency without even knowing it. However, it can be quite effective to prevent iron deficiency at an early stage. Typical signs of a deficiency symptom are
- Easily fatigued
- Frequently occurring lack of drive & lack of concentration
- Drop in performance of athletes
- Brittle fingernails
- Hair loss
How can I prevent the development or recurrence of iron deficiency?
If you feel that you are suffering from iron deficiency, the first and most important step is to consult your doctor. He/she will carry out an appropriate blood test and, if necessary, advise you about an appropriate therapy and determine the cause of the deficiency. The goal of such a therapy should always include not only the improvement of laboratory values, but also that the symptoms successfully disappear.
To prevent iron deficiency from occurring in the first place, a conscious and targeted diet is especially important. For example, a glass of orange juice containing vitamin C can also help to provide the body with plant-based iron more easily. Some secondary plant substances such as phytates (whole grains, legumes) and polyphenols (tea, coffee), on the other hand, bind the iron so firmly that it is only absorbed to a limited extent by the intestine and is excreted for the most part. If the iron deficiency is caused by diet, the balance of the iron reserves can possibly be restored with the help of dietary supplements. Patience is required, as the treatment period for exhausted iron reserves can last three to six months. It should be noted that only about 10-15% of the orally supplied iron is available to the body, or a maximum of 3-5 mg per day.