Low Iron Stores
Sara Cook, Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach
Dear Caring Medical,
I was told that my iron stores are low. What should I be eating?
Having low iron stores could mean that you may not be eating enough iron-containing foods, or you could be losing iron for some reason, for example if you have cancer, heavy menstruation or intestinal bleeding from peptic ulcers or hemorrhoids.
The body stores iron at different levels. You can have high, normal, or low stores of iron. Having high or low stores could cause harm to your body.
TIBC (total iron binding capacity) is typically used along with serum iron levels to evaluate your iron status. Usually, about one third of the TIBC measured is being used to transport iron. In iron deficiency, iron is low, but TIBC is increased. In iron overload, such as in hemochromatosis, iron will be high and TIBC will be low or normal.
TIBC levels fall relatively rapidly when there is not enough protein in the diet, and so can also be used to monitor nutritional status.
Ferritin is called an iron storage protein. Ferritin levels are low in chronic iron deficiency and or if your body proteins are severely depleted, as in some cases of malnutrition.
Lack of iron is one of the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Women are most particularly at risk for iron deficiency. The average daily iron intake of a female in the United States is only 12.3 mg. This is well below the adult average amount recommended for good health (the RDA or Recommended Daily Allowance) of 15 mg. The average woman needs 18 mg. iron perday. The average man needs 10 mg of iron in their diet every day.
Is All Dietary Iron the Same?
The are two different types of digestible iron in food:
1. heme iron, found in red meat, seafood, and poultry, and
2. non-heme iron found in breads, fruits, breakfast cereals, vegetable, legumes, nuts and eggs.
Heme iron foods are rich in iron and contain iron in a form that is easily absorbed by the body. Red meat also has a special effect on iron absorption. Red meat, when eaten together with the vegetables, can boost the absorption of non-heme iron by up to 400%. Vitamin C has a similarly positive effect on the absorption of iron.
In other words, the key to a healthy iron-rich diet is to eat a combination of iron rich foods, high in both heme and non-heme iron content.
Menstruating women, age 12-60ish, need more iron because of their monthly loses. After menopause women do not need as much iron. Women should check their CBC (complete blood count), hemoglobin, hematocrit, MCV, and above iron parameters.
Men and non-menstruating women do not want to have high iron stores. This is actually a risk factor for heart disease. In some people too much iron can be absorbed. When this happens, iron collects in vital organs such as the liver, heart, joints, pancreas and pituitary causing these organs to function poorly or fail! Sometimes men are asked to donate blood in order to lower their iron levels.
At Caring Medical, most patients who have low iron stores are people who are not following their appropriate Hauser Diet. Usually it relates to an Otter who is eating like a Giraffe or a Monkey. So if you really want to be sure what is going on, come in and get Diet Typing along with a CBC and iron panel.