Ironing Out The Facts

04th August, 2016
By Vanessa Papas

When it comes to bodily form and functionality,Iron is worth its weight in gold. Without it, your cells would become starved of oxygen, your brain and muscles wouldn’t function, and your immune system would be impaired, along with a lengthy list of other problems. In a nutshell, every living cell needs iron to function.

"Iron is an important mineral needed to help the red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and return carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs by forming a substance called haemoglobin,”explains registered dietician, Celynn Erasmus.

“If you aren’t consuming enough iron, or if you’re losing too much iron, your body can’t produce enough haemoglobin, and a condition called iron deficiency anaemia will eventually develop and affect your health and wellbeing.”

Initially,Iron deficiency anaemiacan be so mild that it goes unnoticed, but as the body becomes more deficient in iron and anaemia worsens, the signs and symptoms will intensify.

One suffering from the condition might experience extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, possible chest pain, frequent infections, dizziness or lightheadedness, cold hands and feet, brittle nails, fast heartbeat and unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice or dirt.Your doctor can order blood tests to check your iron levels.

The most common causes of Iron deficiency include :

  • blood loss(heavy menstruation or slow, chronic blood loss within the body such as from a peptic ulcer or colon problems),
  • a lack of iron in your diet, an inability to absorb iron (such as coeliac disease, which affects your intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from digested food),
  • increased iron requirement such as pregnancy and certain medications and antibiotics.

Some people are more at risk of developing the condition than others (women due to menstruation, vegetarians, infants and children, as well as frequent blood donors).

“There are ways to increase your iron levels, but depending on the cause of the anaemia and its severity, it’s generally recommended that one starts with a healthy diet as a first resort. Only if there is no improvement after a few weeks with diet would I recommend an iron supplement,” adds Celynn.

“It is possible to overdose with iron, so careful adherence to the correct dosages is important. Iron supplementation is safe and effective for documented iron deficiency that has been diagnosed by a medical professional.

This is the one and only reason to take high-dose supplemental iron. Iron supplements can also cause constipation or upset your digestive tract, so you may need to try more than one supplement initially. Iron may turn your stools black, which is a harmless side-effect. It’s important to keep in mind that iron deficiency can’t be corrected overnight. You may need to take iron supplements for several months – or longer, to replenish your iron reserves.”

Foods rich in iron include red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, and iron-fortified foods such as cereals.


“Your body absorbs more iron from meat than it does from other plant based sources,” says Celynn.

“It’s recommended one also watches the amount of tea you consume, as a substance called tannins found in tea is thought to inhibit the absorption of iron (including decaffeinated tea that still contains tannins).

Foods high in phytates and oxylates such as nuts, parsley and rhubarb may also have a negative impact on iron absorptionso make sure you eat a varied, balanced diet.

Choose foods containing vitamin C to enhance iron absorption! Vitamin C is found in broccoli, citrus fruit such as oranges or grapefruit, kiwi, melons, berries such as strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes and leafy greens.”

Dedicated to keeping you and your family healthy, Dis‑Chem’s Wellness clinics offer a variety of on-site specialised screening tests and, as part of Dis‑Chem’s winter wellness campaign, are offering 9HB testing to check iron levels. To book, call 0861 117 427. Please note that all Clinic Sisters only work on appointments on a Saturday.