Having normal iron levels is important for energy as well as for prevention of tiredness and fatigue. Iron intake can be a problem for women of childbearing age, who need twice as much daily iron, and are much more likely to have iron deficiency, than men despite having the same diet. A recent survey amongst 1138 women in the British Isles shows that 9 out of 10 have experienced extreme tiredness. Of these 3 in 10 have had to stop taking oral iron formulations because of side effects.
The symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anaemia
Iron deficiency simply means that the iron levels in your body are low. You can have low iron without being anaemic. Iron deficiency typically leads to iron deficiency anaemia. Iron deficiency is when the bodies’ liver stores of iron begin to become depleted whilst iron deficiency anaemia is when numbers of red blood cells are reduced, or the amount of normal haemoglobin in the blood is reduced. So anaemia is the end stage of having low iron where there is a reduction in red blood cells or haemoglobin. Iron is essential for normal body function and to make haemoglobin.
Lack of iron can lead to unusual tiredness, shortness of breath, chest pain, reduced physical performance and increased chances of getting an infection., Signs tend to change according to the severity of Iron deficiency (Panel 1).
Signs and symptoms of Iron Deficiency
Lack of energy, weakness, brittle nails, headache, dizziness, hair loss, strange food cravings, restless legs, swelling/soreness of the tongue, cracks in the sides of the mouth, frequent infections.
Signs and symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anaemia
Fatigue (tiredness), shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, coldness in the hands and feet, pale skin, fast or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, weakness.
Panel 1: Signs of ID and IDA.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is wise to visit your Doctor or HCP for their advice. It can be diagnosed by a blood test in most cases.
Why are women more inclined to have low iron levels than men?
Both men and women can be iron deficient. This can be due to a poor diet, internal bleeding/illness, poor absorption (e.g. Coeliac Disease) or people who donate blood frequently. The key difference for women is that they experience menstruation where they lose blood frequently and during pregnancy were additional blood is required in the body. It may also be caused by Uterine Fibroids.
Heavy menstruation - the number 1 cause of low iron levels in women is due to heavy periods. Any woman who has experienced this knows how draining it can be and then to have to face it all again the following month. It’s particularly hard if your periods come more frequently and so the time to replenish blood is shorter.
During pregnancy or breast feeding – when a woman is pregnant, more blood is produced to support the growth of the baby. If a woman doesn’t get enough iron, the body might find it hard to produce the correct amount of red blood cells it needs to make this additional blood. Many women experience iron deficiency during pregnancy. If you are breastfeeding and experienced iron deficiency during your pregnancy, then chances are you are still low in iron while breastfeeding. The milk produced will take the nutrients from your body required to make the best supply of milk for the baby. It’s you, the mum, who will continue to suffer low iron while the baby will get the best possible nutrients.
Uterine Fibroids – These are muscular tumors that grow in the uterus and can cause heavy bleeding which leads to iron deficiency anemia. A pelvic ultrasound can be used to look for the source of heavy bleeding during a women’s period.
Maintaining normal iron levels is a major public health goal, particularly for women and young children. However, oral iron formulations remain poorly absorbed despite many decades of food fortification and supplementation. This has resulted in widespread use of poorly tolerated, high dose oral iron formulations. Experts have learned that oral iron causes these side effects because of two main problems. First, iron causes inflammation due to release of “reactive oxygen species” in the tissues of the gut if it is not absorbed. Second, most of the dose taken is not absorbed leading to increased gut irritation. As a consequence, women can experience nausea, cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
Active Iron – Tough on tiredness, kind on you
Active Iron is a new iron formulation, designed to solve these problems. The iron is formulated in special protein microspheres, which protect the gut from damage. Also, the microspheres target iron release in the first section of the small intestine where it is best absorbed, resulting in improved absorption.
Active Iron is tough on tiredness because its advanced formulation improves iron absorption. It is also kind on you because it helps protect the gut from inflammation and damage due to iron and is gentle enough to be taken on an empty stomach. It is also safe to take during pregnancy and breast feeding.
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 Hughes-Jones NC et al. (2009) Haematology. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.