WHO IS AT RISK?
Counterintuitively, iron deficiency often affects active people most. Athletic, active men and women expel more iron than inactive people by sweating more. Iron can be expelled from the body by sweating and is also expelled in larger quantities by active people via urine and faeces. Red blood cells also break down faster in active people, leading to an increased demand for iron to create new cells.
Premenopausal women are also at greater risk, mostly due to menstrual blood loss. Pregnancy and birth cause women to lose large amounts of iron to breastfeeding and the sheer amount of blood required by a developing foetus. Vegans and vegetarians are at risk because they don’t absorb the large amounts of iron found in meat.
Finally, many people in the developing world suffer from iron deficiency because of poor diet, but also because of infections like malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Malnutrition, especially among children, is a big cause of iron deficiency in the developing world.
INCREASE YOUR INTAKE
You can get iron from diet or supplements. Dietary iron is divided into:
- Heme iron: This is iron you get from red or white meat or fish. Your body absorbs this very easily
- Non-heme iron: Iron from non-meat sources like spinach or beans. This isn’t absorbed as easily.
A great way to improve your iron intake is via supplements. Many OTC iron supplements are available in South Africa. Most adult males will need between 8mg and 11mg of iron a day, while women could need as much as 18mg when they’re under 49 (and 27mg if they’re pregnant). More than 45mg a day is toxic.
You can get the most out of your iron intake by taking vitamin C supplements at the same time. Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron. You should also avoid substances that inhibit iron uptake for at least an hour before or after ingesting iron. Coffee and tea, for example, both prevent iron absorption.