Iron deficiency

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Columns

I bring this to you because I experienced iron deficiency myself and think that this article provides a pretty much complete overview of the topic. We all need it, but do we get enough? Iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency in the world and can affect your active lifestyle as well as your everyday life.

As it is essential for physical activity, a major function of iron is to carry oxygen to the cells all over the body. When you’re even slightly depleted on iron, it takes you more effort to do the same amount of physical activity than if your iron stores were full.

So how do you know if you’re at risk of an iron deficiency? Some people are at higher risk for iron depletion than others. You have an increased risk of iron deficiency if you are one or more of the following:

  • a women of child bearing age
  • an athlete (regular exercise increases the body’s need for iron in a few ways – for example: training promotes red blood cell production while iron is lost through sweat)
  • also at risk are vegetarians because the iron from animal sources is more readily absorbed (it is more difficult for vegetarian to absorb enough iron)
  • and finally, a frequent blood donor (a deficiency can easily occur with frequent blood loss)

The next question to ask is: “How do you know if you’re deficient in iron?”

You can’t be sure if you’re low on iron without a blood test. However, there’re many symptoms that may suggest an iron deficiency.

If you suffer from some of the following symptoms you may be iron deficient: fatigue, pale skin, irritability, weakness, shortness of breath, sore tongue, bridle nails, loss of endurance, high exercise heart rate, low power, frequent injury, reoccurring illness and loss of interest in exercise.

If you continually experience any of these symptoms and are at one of the high risk categories, you should visit your doctor for blood work. If your doctor can confirm an iron deficiency, you’ll be recommended to increase your dietary intake of iron. If your depletion is severe, your doctor may also recommend supplements.

However, never take iron supplements without a doctor’s recommendation. As too much iron can cause even more damage and put you at a higher risk for cancer and heart disease.

If you think you are iron deficient, there’re some great foods you can eat to ensure you’re getting the adequate amount of iron in your diet (the recommended daily allowance for iron is 15mg per day for women and 10mg per day for men).

While iron from animal sources like meat and fish are more readily absorbed by the body, you can increase your iron intake from plants as well.

To increase iron in your diet, try the following:

  • eat meat, poultry or fish every day
  • choose iron fortified breakfast cereals and bread
  • avoid caffeine at meals because it interferes with absorption
  • combine iron rich foods with vitamin C rich foods to help absorb the iron.

Vitamin C rich foods include: bell peppers, melon, kiwi, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, vegetable jus, spinach and other green leafy vegetables.

Remember, getting enough iron in your diet can help you in every activity from concentrating at work to working out. If you think you may be deficient, ask your doctor for a blood test and specific recommendations based on your results.

The source for this article was the 5 Essential Podcast. If you’re interested in listening to the whole Podcast, please click here and download the February 2006 episode. CTS was kind enough to let me publish this information on my blog and share it with all of you.

Chris Carmichael is the founder, CEO and president of Carmichael Training Systems and personal coach to cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France Champion Lance Armstrong. Carmichael is also the author of New York Times Bestseller Chris Carmichael’s Food For Fitness: Eat Right to Train Right, Chris Carmichael’s Fitness Cookbook, The Ultimate Ride, and co-author of The Lance Armstrong Performance Program, with Lance Armstrong.

Maybe I should mention that Ed Moses was also a client of CTS during his active swimming career (to relate it with swimming).