Iron deficiency: The signs in your nails, taste and complexion – do you have it?
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Some people will choose to take iron supplements if they are not getting enough from their diet.The body needs iron to make haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from your lungs to the organs and tissues throughout the body. Without adequate levels of iron, the red blood cells can’t effectively carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. The NHS says that there are several potential consequences if you take too much iron, which would be over 20mg.
NHS Inform says the most common symptoms include tiredness and lack of energy, shortness of breath and noticeable heartbeats.
You may also notice that you have a pale complexion, if you have iron deficiency anemia.
Less common symptoms include an altered sense of taste and spoon-shaped nails.
You may also notice you get headaches, are feeling itchy, a sore or abnormally smooth tongue, hair loss, a desire to eat non-food items, difficulty swallowing, and painful open sores on the corners of your mouth
Though most people can get all the iron they need through their diets, women who lose a lot of blood during their monthly period are at higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia and may need to take iron supplements.
Treatment includes prescribed iron tablets and diet can play an important role in preventing and treating iron deficiency anaemia.
The richest source of iron in the diet includes meat and seafood and for this reason many vegans may suffer from an iron deficiency.
Pregnant women are also more susceptible to having an iron deficiency anaemia as they require twice as much iron to support normal growth for their baby.
If iron deficiency anaemia is left untreated, you may be more susceptible to illness and infection, as a lack of iron affects the body’s immune system.
The NHS warns: “If you take iron supplements, do not take too much as this could be harmful.”
Nonetheless, taking 17mg or less a day of iron supplements “is unlikely to cause any harm” and you should continue taking a higher dose if advised to by a GP.
As a general guide, the NHS says the amount of iron you need is 8.7mg a day for men over 18, and 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50, and 8.7mg a day for women over 50.
Absorption of iron into the gut is reduced by drinking tea and milk, according to the NHS.Nonetheless, if you drink orange juice beforehand, this can be beneficial.
The NHS states: “Vitamin C (sometimes called ascorbic acid) may help the body to absorb iron, so to get the most from the food you eat, have Vitamin C rich foods with meals; for example, fresh vegetables or fruit, or drinks such as fresh orange juice.”
But it notes “tea may reduce the absorption of iron from foods” so you should avoid drinking tea directly before, after or with meals and only drink tea in between meals”.
Non-prescribed food supplements are available over-the-counter and can be taken if an adequate iron intake is not being achieved.
Iron exists in two forms known as haem and non-haem. Haem iron is found in animal tissue (meat) and is the most easily absorbed by the body.
Non-haem iron is found in vegetables, beans, pulses and grains and is less easily absorbed by the body.
The NHS says good sources of iron include:
- liver (but avoid this during pregnancy)
- red meat
- beans, such as red kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas
- dried fruit – such as dried apricots
- fortified breakfast cereals
- soy bean flour
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