Iron: Are You Getting Enough?
- Pale skin
- Brittle nails
- Heart palpitations
- Hair loss
- Shortness of breath during or after physical activity
- Unusual cravings for substances, such as ice, dirt, or pure starch
- Restless leg syndrome
Should You Be Concerned About Iron-deficiency Anemia?
- Pregnant women
- People who have certain medical conditions, such as celiac disease, peptic ulcer, H. pylori infection, inflammatory bowel disease, or colon cancer
- People who take certain medications, like antacids, H-2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors, chronic use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief, or zinc or magnesium supplements
- Adolescents, especially girls
Why Is Iron So Important?
- Apathy or irritability
- Lowered resistance to infection
- May feel cold
- Wounds may take longer to heal
- Finger nails may become spoon shaped
How Much Iron Do You Need?
|Age||Males (mg/day)||Females (mg/day||Pregnancy (mg/day)||Lactation (mg/day)|
|7 to 12 months||11||11||–||–|
|1 to 3 years||7||7||–||–|
|4 to 8 years||10||10||–||–|
|9 to 13 years||8||8||–||–|
|14 to 18 years||11||15||27||10|
|19 to 50 years||8||18||27||9|
|51 years and older||8||8||–||–|
Iron and Your Diet
- Heme iron—efficiently absorbed by the body, found in meats and animal products
- Nonheme iron—may be less well absorbed by the body, found in plant sources
- Additive iron—added in processing to create iron-enriched or fortified baked products and breakfast cereals
Eating for Energy
- Choose iron-rich foods.—Lean meats, fish, and poultry are still the best iron sources for meat eaters. For those of you who are not willing to eat a steak once a week, foods like beans and legumes, greens, whole grains, and dried fruits will provide iron, albeit in a less absorbable, nonheme form.
- Choose more "C".—Vitamin C , which helps trap and dissolve iron, can improve the absorption of nonheme iron. Try broccoli, tomatoes, green and red peppers, orange juice, grapefruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, mangoes, papayas, and baked potatoes.
- Remember that little things add up.—Choose iron-enriched rice, pasta, and breads; switch to an iron-fortified cereal for breakfast; add dark (blackstrap) molasses or raisins when baking. It may sound like an old wives' tale, but cooking in an iron skillet, especially with high-acid foods like tomatoes, can contribute a little extra iron, too.
- Avoid excess coffee, tea, or chocolate with meals.—These contain substances that inhibit the absorption of nonheme iron.
- Supplement with ferrous sulfate or a multivitamin.—For those of us who simply cannot get enough iron from foods, supplementation may be a viable alternative. Talk to your doctor first, though, and find out what supplement is right for you.
Good Dietary Sources of Iron
- Meats—such as lean beef, lean pork, lamb, veal, liver, organ meats
- Fish—such as clams, oysters, shellfish, tuna
- Poultry—such as chicken and turkey
- Beans and legumes—such as black-eyed plit peas, black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, lentils, soybeans
- Vegetables—such as dark, leafy greens (beet greens, kale, spinach, turnip greens); asparagus; bok choy; broccoli
- Dried fruits—such as raisins
- Grains—such as iron-fortified cereal (45% of the daily value or more), whole-grain or iron-enriched foods
- Other types of food—such as blackstrap molasses, Brewer's yeast, tofu
The Vegetarian Society http://www.vegsoc.org
US Department of Health and Human Services Women's Health http://www.womenshealth.gov
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca
Annibale B, Capurso G, Chistolini A, et al. Gastrointestinal causes of refractory iron deficiency anemia in patients without gastrointestinal symptoms. Am J Med. 2001;111:439-445.
Iron. Center for Young Women's Health website. Available at: http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/iron.html. Updated September 23, 2011. Accessed June 12, 2013.
Iron. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional. Updated August 24, 2007. Accessed June 12, 2013.
Iron deficiency anemia in adults . EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated June 6, 2013. Accessed June 12, 2013.
Iron deficiency in children (infancy through adolescence). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated May 7, 2013. Accessed June 12, 2013.
Killip S, Bennett JM, Chambers MD. Iron deficiency anemia [review]. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75:671-678.
Patrick LR. Restless legs syndrome: pathophysiology and the role of iron and folate [review]. Altern Med Rev. 2007;12:101-112.
Verdon F, Burnand B, Fallab-Stubi CL, et al. Iron supplementation for unexplained fatigue in non-anaemic women: double blind randomised placebo controlled trial. Br Med J. 2003;326:1124.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 06/2013
- Update Date: 06/12/2013