Low Iron, No Symptoms, No Problem?

By: Malarie Warren

Iron deficiency, a modern day public health epidemic, is prevalent across the world in both developing and industrialized countries. It is a condition that affects nearly 40% of preschool children and “The major health consequences include poor pregnancy outcome, impaired physical and cognitive development, increased risk of morbidity in children and reduced work productivity in adults”.1 Symptoms most commonly experienced by patients with low iron levels include headaches, fatigue, and depression, though Dr. Nancy Berliner of the American Society of Hematology explains that not all patients experience these symptoms.2 We may ask then if it is really an issue if there are no symptoms? Do we really need to be concerned? Absolutely.  Dr. Berliner explains that deficiency can and most likely will turn into iron-deficiency anemia because of the very nature of the condition. Low iron means that the patient is losing blood, bleeding somewhere, whether it is due to a menstrual cycle, gastrointestinal bleeding, or colorectal disease. Continued loss of blood will result in anemia. As ubiquitous as iron deficiency is in both developing and industrialized countries alike, it is also one of the most curable conditions known to man. Iron supplements are usually sufficient to restore iron levels, but dietary changes can make a huge impact. The important part is finding out the root of the issue to ensure there are no polyps, ulcers, or cancer cells that need treatment outside of the deficiency.2 As expressed in table 1, it is recommended that men between the ages of 19 and 50 years of age consume 8 mg of iron each day and women, 18 mg each day. This figure increases under other conditions such as pregnancy and lactation.

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Iron

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 0.27 mg* 0.27 mg*
7–12 months 11 mg 11 mg
1–3 years 7 mg 7 mg
4–8 years 10 mg 10 mg
9–13 years 8 mg 8 mg
14–18 years 11 mg 15 mg 27 mg 10 mg
19–50 years 8 mg 18 mg 27 mg 9 mg
51+ years 8 mg 8 mg

Adequate Intake (AI)

Heme Iron is the most bioavailable form of iron for the body and is present in significant amounts in poultry, seafood in meats. These foods also contain non-heme iron, another form of iron that is present in grains, beans, and leafy greens.3 A balanced diet is key to optimal health. If you ever find yourself asking “Should I be concerned about my low iron if I don’t have any symptoms?” know that the answer is yes, yes you should. So go enjoy a nice spinach salad with some chicken (oh and don’t miss that annual checkup), your body will thank you.


References:

  1. Micronutrient Deficiencies. World Health Organization: Nutrition. http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ida/en/. Accessed 12 June, 2017.
  2. Rabin R. Is Low Iron, Without Symptoms, A Problem? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/well/eat/is-low-iron-without-symptoms-a-problem.html?_r=0. Published 7 April, 2017. Accessed 12 June, 2017.https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/#en5 
  3. Kaufman, C. MS, RDN. Foods to Fight Iron Deficiency. Eat Right. Academy of    Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/wellness/preventing-illness/iron-deficiency. Published 6 January, 2017. Accessed 12 June, 2017.
  4. Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Iron. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc : a Report of the Panel on Micronutrients. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001.
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