Our body needs iron. It is an essential element for the production of blood. Its deficiency leads to anaemia.
We also need iron for the production of new cells, hormones, etc. Indeed, our iron level determines how soon we recover from any illness, as the immune system depends so much on our iron level for efficient functioning.
We also need to have good iron level if we must recover quickly after we have engaged in strenuous exercise, sports, etc.
Our physical and mental growth is affected by our iron levels, especially in childhood; and during pregnancy when the developing baby solely depends on its mother’s iron supplies.
Indeed, iron is so important to the human survival such that in the first six months of life, a newborn needs iron like water and he can get a reasonable supply through the mother’s milk.
According to General Practitioner, Dr. Daniel Ogunboyejo, “In the first year of life, a healthy, full-term infant will almost double its total iron stores, and increase its body weight by about three times.”
He adds that the change in body iron during this period occurs mainly during the first six to 12 months of life; and that between one and six years of age, the body iron content is again doubled.
“The requirements for absorbed iron in infants and children are very high in relation to their energy requirements,” he says.
Gynaecologists say while still in the womb, a foetus has good supply of iron during the last trimester of pregnancy, and that one of the reasons premature and low-birth-weight infants may not survive is because their iron supply is usually very low.
Consequently, paediatricians say, such infants need extra supply of iron in the first six months of life.
Despite its life-and-death importance to humans, the human body cannot produce iron itself; and that’s why we need to ensure that we eat sufficient amounts of iron as part of our daily diet.
Experts say iron is rather fluid in the human body and that it could be lost quickly in many ways. For instance, women can lose iron through the monthly menstrual flow, which is why females need more iron than males; while male and female could lose iron through urination, defecation, sweating, and exfoliating of old skin cells.
Again, physicians say, infestations with hookworms and other parasites can sap our iron levels and expose our flanks, health-wise; as do the side-effects of medicines or surgery.
Signs of iron deficiency
Many people are deficient in iron, but they may not know until they become terribly ill such that the doctor has to place them on iron supplements. To avoid this, you need to know the symptoms of iron deficiency.
To begin with, physicians warn that if you’ve always been energetic and well, but you suddenly start feeling exhausted such that you now struggle to climb the stairs and can hardly undertake your daily workout, you may be deficient in iron. But beyond this, iron deficiency is also evident as follow…
The nail says so much about your health, experts say. The regular human nail is transverse and it is only in cases of abnormalities that you see a human with spoon nails.
Ogunboyejo says that weak, brittle or spoon nails may be a warning of an underlying iron problem.
“In the case of spoon nail occasioned by iron deficiency, the inside of your nail sinks in, leaving you with a fingernail shaped like a spoon. You may have to undergo a blood test for anaemia for proper diagnosis,” the GP says.
Many children and adults spot cracked lips on either sides of the mouth. Ogunboyejo says this is an unmistakable symptom of iron deficiency.
“Cracks at the corners of the mouth, otherwise known as angular cheilitis, are almost always indicative of iron deficiency. The attending physician must treat the patient for iron deficiency in order to keep cracked lips at bay,” Ogunboyejo enthuses.
Medically known as atrophic glossitis, tender or swollen tongue is present when an individual becomes iron deficient.
“Atrophic glossitis can cause problems with chewing, swallowing, or talking; but more of concern is the fact that the sufferer is iron deficient and the condition should be treated promptly,” the physician says.
Once in a while, if you sit in an awkward position such that bloodflow to your leg is inhibited, you may have tingling on the leg. However, Ogunboyejo warns, when you experience burning, tugging, tingling, or feel as if insects are crawling inside your legs, you may have issues with iron deficiency.
Experts warn that if you experience some of these symptoms, you should see your physician who may order you to go for blood tests. Ogunboyejo says resorting to self-medication by taking iron supplements or eating iron-rich diet can be dangerous.
“This is because too much iron can result in dangerous health conditions such as bone loss and liver damage. If you suspect that you are iron-deficient, see the doctor,” he counsels.
Food sources of iron
Meanwhile, prevention is better than cure. In order to shore up your health, eat foods that are rich in iron. They include meat and poultry such as lean beef, veal, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey and liver (except fish liver).
You can also get iron from seafood such as fish, mussels and shellfish; as well as in vegetables such as all kinds of green vegetables, tofu, broccoli, sweet peas, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, corn, cabbage, etc.