Why is it especially important for women to monitor their iron intake and how to avoid anemia, says Vasily Yurasov, Ph.D.
Why do we need iron and where is it stored
If we could extract all the iron from the body and weigh it, then a person of average age and height would have 4-5 grams of this substance, that is, all the reserves would easily fit in one teaspoon.
- In women, 70% of all iron stores are in hemoglobin. Its main task is to transport oxygen from the lungs to all organs and tissues.
- 17% is functional iron, which is part of myoglobin in muscles (because of it, these tissues have a red color) and creates a local short-term supply of oxygen. It may be required, for example, for a jerk by athletes until the frequency of their breathing is synchronized with physical activity.
- Another 12% of iron is ferritin. This is a reserve that is stored in the liver and spleen. For a rainy day.
- The remaining small part (just over 1%) is part of more than a hundred different enzymes that are involved in redox reactions and help extract energy from glucose or fats.
Iron is also included in the structure of microsomal oxidation enzymes in the liver: they destroy poisons, toxins and medicinal substances. In addition, the destruction of bacteria is impossible without iron: the formation of peroxides, with the help of which leukocytes kill them, requires the participation of this element.
Where does the iron go?
From what has been said, it is probably clear that after heavy physical exertion and infectious diseases, iron reserves need to be replenished.
- In addition, physiological losses of iron, reaching 2 mg per day, develop during menstruation, especially heavy ones.
- An important period when a woman’s need for iron increases is pregnancy. At this time, deficiency may occur due to the fact that a lot of iron is required not only for effective hematopoiesis in the maternal body, but also for hematopoiesis of the fetus.
- Massive injuries that are directly related to blood loss, as well as various ulcerative lesions of the gastrointestinal tract, in which chronic blood loss occurs, can lead to iron loss.
- But the simplest cause of iron deficiency is an insufficient supply of this element with food: either the foods you eat are low in it, or it is poorly absorbed. The pathology of the gastrointestinal tract can interfere with the absorption of iron: gastritis, especially with low acidity, duodenitis – inflammation of the duodenum, pancreatitis, which lead to inefficient digestion of food. The problem can be created by drugs that reduce the acidity of gastric juice. It is undesirable to take them regularly and is permissible only as directed by a doctor!
- Worm infestations have a negative effect on the absorption of iron, especially those in which the parasites stick to the intestinal mucosa and cause local blood loss.
- Thyroid hormones play an important role in the absorption of iron and its incorporation into the structure of hemoglobin. Therefore, with iodine deficiency, iron deficiency may also occur.
What causes iron deficiency
When iron is deficient, the body first draws it from its stores.
When they are exhausted, anemia develops. Outwardly, it can manifest itself as weakness, increased fatigue, decreased concentration and intolerance to cold, when even a slight coolness is uncomfortable. There may be brittle nails, atrophy of the taste buds on the tongue (“smoothness” of the tongue), taste perversion – a craving for eating non-food products, for example, a desire to chew chalk that is often found in pregnant women. Dizziness, tachycardia may begin with slight physical exertion. And even small wounds do not heal well.
How to replenish iron stores
In order to constantly maintain reserves at the same level, you need to consume only 15-20 mg of iron per day. Getting them from apples is a good idea, but not the best: 100 g of apples contain only 3 mg of iron. Much richer in this regard are hazelnuts (50 mg per 100 g), and beans (72 mg per 100 g). The difficulty lies in the fact that the iron obtained from food is not completely absorbed in the body. From the same beans, the body is able to extract only 3% of the iron contained in it. In order to get the daily norm, you have to eat almost a kilogram of beans!
A diet that you think is “healthy” (especially a vegetarian diet) may actually contain substances that interfere with the absorption of a valuable element. The so-called complexons “block” iron (otherwise they are called chelators, phytates), which are present in large quantities in fiber and bran, legumes, and wheat. In addition, the absorption of iron is hindered by an excess of phosphates, oxalic acid salts, calcium and zinc in food. That is why it is useless to use multivitamins in which all trace elements are present – they will compete with each other.
Meat is a good source of iron. But it is important to remember that the metal we need is not absorbed without ascorbic acid, so its deficiency can be secondary to vitamin C deficiency. That is, strict protein diets in this sense are no better than vegetarian ones.
How to detect iron deficiency
Laboratory diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia begins with general clinical blood test. The first signs of anemia, when all processes are still compensated, is the appearance of anisocytosis – a change in the shape of red blood cells. The width of the distribution of erythrocytes also increases, their average volume decreases – these are the very first signs of anemia. With a more pronounced clinical picture, a decrease in hemoglobin and the number of red blood cells is added to them.
Then check serum glandsabout. But this is far from the only analysis.
Remember, at the beginning of the article, we said that 12% of iron is ferritin, a strategic reserve? As soon as the iron level drops, ferritin moves into the tissues, so a laboratory study can fix its significant decrease (by 2-5 times).
Another test is for transferrin, whose direct function is the transport of iron from the intestines and liver to organs and tissues. If there is little iron, then the level of transferrin will increase.
When a decrease in the amount of iron is not too obvious, but there is reason to suspect it, it is checked latent serum iron-binding capacity.
And, if a deficiency is discovered, you will most likely have to rethink your ideas about “healthy eating.”
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