Iron is an essential nutrient for maintaining good health and staying energetic.
Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and frequent illness are just some of the unpleasant side effects of low iron levels, which are more common than you might think. Iron deficiency, particularly in its early stages, is not always obvious, however.
Iron supplements are helpful for reversing iron deficiency when dietary modifications alone have failed.
The best ways to check your iron levels and whether or not you might need an iron supplement are discussed.
Signs of Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is frequent, especially among certain demographics. Untreated, they can progress into iron deficiency anaemia (IDA), a far more dangerous illness.
Inadequate numbers of healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body, are the defining feature of IDA. This may lead to the following signs and symptoms:
- Fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, recurrent illness, and an inability to maintain a healthy body temperature or a persistent feeling of chilliness are all symptoms of chronic fatigue.
- Feelings of unease and pallor
- Feeling itchy, having a sore tongue or difficulty swallowing, noticing a shift in the flavour of the food you eat, experiencing hair loss.
- Pica is a painful condition where the corners of the mouth open up from cravings for things like ice or dirt.
- Nails shaped like spoons
- Restless leg syndrome (an irresistible need to move one's legs).
Consult your doctor about diagnostic tests to discover or rule out low iron levels or IDA if you have any of these symptoms.
Remember that these signs and symptoms tend to become more obvious when low iron levels develop into IDA. In the early phases of iron depletion, you may have low iron levels without feeling any of these symptoms.
Having your iron levels checked on a regular basis will help you spot and manage low iron before it progresses to IDA.
When Iron Supplements Can Be Helpful
Iron supplements are effective in treating low iron levels and anaemia caused by a lack of iron in the body. They're the go-to therapy option since they're effective and deliver benefits more quickly than dietary therapies.
Those who are susceptible to anaemia and who are unable to keep their iron levels up through diet alone may benefit greatly from taking these supplements.
- Women who are expecting a child
- Babies and toddlers
- Women who are undergoing heavy periods
- Consistently giving blood
- Those afflicted by cancer
- Those suffering from digestive issues such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative Colitis, or celiac disease
- Individuals who have had stomach stapling
- Sufferers of heart failure
- Those who are taking iron-depleting drugs, like those used to treat acid reflux
- Participants in regular, strenuous exercise
- Those who don't eat meat or dairy
- Sickle cell anaemia patients and those with thalassemia
- Addicts and alcoholics
Iron Supplements for Women Are Good Because:
Iron supplements often contain high levels of iron, which can create digestive troubles and inhibit the absorption of other nutrients in the stomach, so it's crucial to know that taking them when they're unnecessary could be harmful to your health.
Cell damage and, in extreme situations, organ failure, unconsciousness, and even death can ensue from unnecessary use of these supplements. Anyone is vulnerable to adverse reactions, but children seem to be particularly at risk.
Therefore, it is imperative that you or your child undergo an iron status test before beginning iron supplementation and that you strictly adhere to your healthcare provider's dosage recommendations.
Getting Tested for Low Iron
Diagnosing low iron levels or IDA can be challenging based on symptoms alone, so a blood test is one of the best ways to confirm a diagnosis.
Comparing the amount of iron you get from food and supplements to the prescribed amounts is one complementary method.
Understanding the three basic stages of iron deficiency may help in deciding which blood tests to request.
Iron Insufficiency and Its Stages
The following are the typical progressional steps from low iron levels to IDA:
Mild Iron Deficiency
A low ferritin level (10-30 mcg/L) indicates this syndrome, together with a normal RBC count (haemoglobin > 12 g/dL and hematocrit > 36% in women and > 41% in males).
Mild Functional Iron Deficiency
Low ferritin levels (less than 10 mcg/L) indicate iron deficiency anaemia, whereas normal red blood cell (RBC) counts (haemoglobin > 12 g/dL and hematocrit > 36% in women and > 41% in men) indicate that iron stores have not been depleted.
Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA)
Low red blood cell (RBC) counts, with haemoglobin levels below 12 g/dL and hematocrit levels below 36% for women and 41% for men, and depleted iron stores constitute this condition.
Best Tests to Diagnose Your Iron Status
Common screenings for iron deficiency include hematocrit and haemoglobin testing. Although they can detect IDA, they are not considered sensitive or specific enough to detect iron deficiency in its earliest stages.
Finding signs of depletion before they proceed to IDA is preferable since you can then take preventative measures like changing your diet or taking supplements.
In the early stages of iron insufficiency, serum ferritin is the most cost-effective and efficient test available.
However, ferritin levels are not commonly checked by doctors, so you may need to request this test in addition to the more common haemoglobin and hematocrit checks when you see your physician.
How Frequently Should You Have Tests?
Those who have never been diagnosed with an iron deficiency may choose to get their levels checked once a year.
Haemoglobin levels may rise after only 4 weeks of iron supplementation. However, ferritin and haemoglobin levels often take at least three months to replenish and, in some cases, even longer.
Accordingly, those who are taking iron supplements to treat an iron shortage should wait at least three months, if not somewhat longer, before having their haemoglobin and ferritin levels checked again.
However, some people simply do not benefit from or experience negative reactions when using oral iron supplements. As a result, they might benefit from a different set of therapies.
Therefore, if you have IDA and don't feel better after taking a supplement for 4-8 weeks, you may want to get your haemoglobin levels retested to see if you're responding to the medication.
The best time to take iron supplements is typically in the morning on an empty stomach, as this can enhance absorption. However, it's essential to follow your healthcare provider's recommendations, as they may suggest a different schedule based on your specific needs.
Best Iron Supplements for Women
In terms of iron supplements, the optimal ones for men and women can be different. It is important to talk to a doctor before beginning a new supplement programme since they can make specific suggestions for you depending on your age, gender, eating habits, and existing health concerns.
Best Iron tablets are often any of the following:
There are different types of iron supplements based on men's and women's health issues.
- Iron sulphate
- Gluconate of ferrous
- Fumarate of iron
- Vitamin C helps improve iron absorption; thus, some people may prefer iron supplements that also contain vitamin C. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for use, and talk to your doctor about the best iron supplement for your needs.
When dietary modifications aren't enough to cure an iron deficiency, taking iron supplements may assist.
Iron levels should be checked periodically for those at risk, such as pregnant women, newborns, young children, heavy exercisers, and people with specific medical problems.
Get your haemoglobin, hematocrit, and ferritin levels checked if you're thinking about getting your iron levels checked. Together, they are the best way to spot iron deficiency at its earliest stages.