In order to grasp the full meaning of iron deficiency, it is necessary to understand how the human body obtains the mineral, and how it metabolizes, stores, and utilizes iron. Iron is present in varied amounts in the foods you eat and water you drink. Iron supplements in oral form are often prescribed to those who fall within the definition of a high risk group. While iron is naturally present in your environment, many of us lack sufficient amounts of the mineral in your bodies due to poor dietary intake.
Hemoglobin is comprised in part by iron, and is vitally important to your survival. Hemoglobin attracts and attaches to oxygen molecules in your lungs and initiates a chemical reaction called oxidation that converts oxygen into a form that can be used by your bodies. Hemoglobin then distributes oxygen throughout your bodies, from blood cells to your internal organs. Without enough iron, the human body is unable to sustain sufficient levels of oxygen, and you suffer with health consequences as a result.
The human body naturally forms enzymes using iron and other vitamins and minerals. Enzymes are one of the building blocks of DNA, and are utilized constantly by your bodies in order to function normally. Low levels of iron results in a decrease in your body’s natural ability to produce enzymes. Red and white blood cell functions decrease to the point of inadequacy. Even neural development is affected by insufficient levels of iron in the blood. It is not an exaggeration to say that iron is utilized throughout your entire bodies, and is absolutely necessary for survival.
The human body contains iron in its’ functional form, as well as in stored form. You have more functional iron in your systems than stored iron, due in large part to its’ broad utilization. Functional iron is used throughout your bodies every day. Stored iron is utilized when your functional iron levels drop below a certain level.
In order to maintain sufficient amounts of the mineral in your blood streams, you must replenish your levels by either ingesting dietary iron or taking a supplement. Unfortunately, most of us fail to eat healthy diets that fulfill your nutritional needs, nor do you augment your dietary intake with oral supplements. As a result, your bodies develop iron deficiencies.
Iron deficiencies are common to certain groups of people, namely children experiencing growth spurts, teenage girls and adult women who regularly menstruate, pregnant women, and vegetarians or those who seldom eat meat. Anyone who falls within defined risk groups should have their hemoglobin levels tested by their physicians as part of their regular checkups.
Because the human body uses iron for every function, depleting functional and stored iron levels can happen rapidly, resulting in the development of a deficiency. Those who fall within one of the high risk groups must pay particularly close attention to their bodies, and should watch for signs of low iron. When hemoglobin counts fall below 95 percent of the normal range for their age group, they are officially defined as being iron deficient.
Those who suffer from insufficient iron levels may experience a deterioration of their condition from deficient to anemic. As hemoglobin levels fall and the deficiency worsens the severity of health consequences increases.
Before the development of anemia occurs, the symptoms of low iron levels are relatively mild. Sufferers may experience lethargy and an inability to endure prolonged strenuous physical activities. You may be less productive at work due to a lack of energy, and feel mentally sluggish. Wounds take more time to heal, body aches may become more pronounced, and the skin appears to thin and becomes pale.
With the development of anemia, symptoms worsen and can become very disruptive to normal activities. Anemic individuals often suffer from extreme mood swings, erratic behavior, decreased mental capacity and ability, cardio-pulmonary problems, and a weakened immune system. This condition can be very dangerous because it causes blood to thin and may not develop clot properly. Those with anemia are often incapable of stemming blood loss during menstruation or after sustaining an injury. Fighting infections is also increasingly difficult due to a weakened immune system.
Those who have iron deficient anemia for a prolonged period of time during their formative years may suffer from permanent health consequences, such as sub-par motor skills, slow or weak cognitive functions, decreased focus and concentration, learning disabilities, and more. Elevating iron levels to a normal range may help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with anemia, but mental and physical damage is rarely reversible.
Iron deficiency in pregnant women has been linked to developmental complications in fetuses, including low birth weight and premature birth, prolonged labor with increased occurrences of problems, excessive bleeding, and permanently decreased mental and physical processes. Luckily, supplementation has proven to be very effective at curing iron deficient anemia, and new formulations have been created that decrease the instance of side effects.
While supplementation is effective at treating low iron and iron deficient anemia, it is important to take additional steps in order to remain healthy. Educating yourselves about your bodies’ processes is imperative to predicting, recognizing, and fulfilling an increased need for dietary iron and supplementation. Because infants and children utilize functional iron for performing vital processes, and stored iron for growth and development, extra iron is needed during growth spurts. Menstruating women and teens, or anyone who has experienced significant blood loss also needs to increase their iron intake.
Due to the fact that all human bodies vary in their ability to absorb certain vitamins and minerals, it is important to test hemoglobin levels during regular checkups. Dietary iron is the best way to provide your bodies with essential nutrients. However, doctors recognize that the individual dietary intake of most patients does not provide sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals to maintain good health.