Iron is very essential for the human body. It helps our body in eliminating fatigue and maintaining our energy levels. If a person’s body has a low level of iron, the person might feel tired all the time or have poor concentration. There are certain foods that are rich in iron that help people with iron deficiency but there are certain conditions within which diet alone may not be enough. In such cases, people can take iron supplements that may reverse the iron deficiency. But there are certain things which an individual should know before taking these supplements.
How to diagnose iron deficiency?
First, we need to know the symptoms of iron deficiency. A person with low iron levels may have weakness, headaches, dizziness, difficulty in concentrating and few physical signs like hair loss, pale skin, brittle nails etc. Symptoms of iron deficiency should immediately consult a doctor. A person should not take iron supplements if not prescribed by a doctor. The doctor might advise required tests to the person to confirm whether to conclude iron deficiency. The most common test of diagnosing iron deficiency is a ferritin test. Ferritin is largely a protein in our body which stores the iron and releases it when our body needs it. A ferritin test can indicate to the doctor about the iron levels of our body. A low level of ferritin shows an iron deficiency within the body.
Causes of iron deficiency
- Low iron intake in diet- The human body needs iron. The amount of iron we need depend on factors like gender and age. It is important to consume iron-rich foods for everybody. Lack of iron-rich foods in our diet can cause iron deficiency within the body.
- Loss of blood from the body- Loss of blood can be caused because of many reasons like an injury, childbirth or maybe heavy menstruation. If there is an excess loss of blood from the body, it can cause an iron deficiency.
- Inability of the body to absorb iron- There are certain conditions in which the body cannot absorb iron even after taking it within the diet.
- Frequent blood donations- We lose a significant amount of iron from our body each time we donate blood. It can take a few weeks for our body to replace the iron lost through blood It is advised to have a gap of a few weeks between blood donations.
Who has a higher risk of iron deficiency?
Although, anyone can have an iron deficiency. But there are certain groups of individuals who are at a higher risk –
- Pregnant women
- People above the age of 65
- People having a kidney failure
- Young children
- Frequent Blood donors
Stages of iron deficiency
There are three stages of iron deficiency.
- Mild iron deficiency- During this stage, the iron stores are low with ferritin levels between 10-30 mcg/L but the red blood cell count is normal.
- Mild functional iron deficiency- During this stage, it depletes the iron stores with ferritin levels below 10 mcg/L but the red blood cell count is normal.
- Iron deficiency anaemia- During this stage, the iron stores are depleted with ferritin levels below 10 mcg/L and red blood cell count also falling below the normal range.
Types of iron supplements
Due to high demand of iron supplements, there are a variety of supplements available in the market. They come in different forms. Few supplements are in tablet form; others are in liquid or even powder form. It depends on the person in what form they want to take the supplements. For example, young children might not enjoy taking a capsule so they can take it in a powder or a liquid form. It is an advantage for people who have to take iron supplements as there is not just one form of these supplements. There are four types of iron supplements which include-
- Ferrous sulphate
- Ferrous gluconate
- Ferric citrate
- Ferric Sulphate
However, a doctor might be the best person to determine which kind of supplement should be taken according to the condition, age and gender of the person.
What are the benefits of iron supplements?
By now, we know a lot of things about iron deficiency. We also know that diet alone might not reverse the iron deficiency in the body. Here, iron supplements are extremely beneficial-
- They help in curing the iron deficiency in the body- This is the most obvious benefit of iron supplements. They help in reversing the iron deficiency in the human body. As discussed above, diet might not be enough to provide the iron intake required by the body.
- Iron supplements promote faster results- Although iron-rich foods may also help but the supplements work faster. It can take a longer time for the iron-rich diet to show results in the body while iron supplements show better and faster results.
- Supplements are rich in all the vitamins and are easier to consume- These days, people do not have the time to actually sit and eat all the iron-rich foods possible in case of an iron deficiency. Due to this reason, most people prefer iron supplements. They work the same as iron-rich foods and even faster than them. They are easier to consume. A person can just keep the supplements with them and take it wherever they are.
- Iron supplements come in different forms- While there are a lot of iron-rich foods available like spinach, pumpkin seeds, tofu, fish, beans, broccoli, etc. But not everyone likes everything. Children might not like certain vegetables that are rich in iron while people who are vegetarian might not consume fish. Iron supplements provide all the benefits of the above-mentioned foods as a capsule, powder or liquid. Basically, there is the right supplement available for everyone.
- Extremely beneficial for women during menstruation- Women lose a lot of blood during their menstrual cycle. Few women become anaemic during these days. Doctors suggest these women take iron supplements during their menstrual days. Taking iron supplements can help them maintain their energy level and feel less fatigued during these days.
- Iron supplements have different vitamins combined in them- As the demand for iron supplements has increased different brands have come up with different iron supplements. Few of these supplements also contain Vitamin C and Vitamin B12 along with iron. Vitamin C strengthens our immune system. Vitamin B12 is essential for the production of our red blood cells and for the proper functioning of the nervous system. These days, one iron supplement also has both vitamins which is even more beneficial for the body when taken as prescribed by the doctor.
Do iron supplements have any side effects on our bodies?
Everything has its pros and cons. Any medication that is taken without the consultation of a doctor can have few side effects on our bodies. We are not professionals, so we do not know which supplement is right for us and what should be the right dosage of the supplement. This is the reason it is always advised to consult a doctor before taking any medication. Iron supplements can have the side effects like upset stomach, constipation, nausea if not taken properly. As it is said that excess of everything is bad, just like that having excess iron in our body can cause many problems. Taking the prescribed dosage of these supplements is not likely to cause any side effects.
Iron is very essential for our body. It can be derived from diet and supplements. Earlier people used to rely only on the diet for all the vitamins and minerals.
People have the misconception that supplements are not good for our body. But over the years, the thinking of people has changed. They have started realizing that all the needs of the body cannot be fulfilled by diet alone. Iron supplements work faster than iron-rich foods and are more convenient to take.
The only thing to keep in mind is the appropriate dosage which is to be taken as every age group and gender needs different quantities of iron supplements for example women require more dosage of iron supplements as compared to men. A person should not take iron supplements just because they think they have an iron deficiency.
If they think that they might have an iron deficiency, they should get themselves examined properly so that the doctor can decide the best possible treatment for them. Taking these supplements without any reason can also be harmful for the body. If we take the supplements prescribed by the doctor, our body might take a day or two to get used to them, but they are completely safe to consume.
Most of the doctors today have started suggesting these supplements. There are many iron supplements available in the market as a lot of brands are coming up with such supplements. In the near future, the demand for these supplements will increase even more than people will become more aware of their benefits.