Iron is an essential trace mineral that is central to optimal health and wellness. Traces of iron can be found in the liver, spleen, bone marrow and muscle tissue. Iron aids in the formation of hemoglobin, which facilitates the dark red pigmentation in blood. It also helps transport oxygen to the cells of the body as an important component of myoglobin protein. Additionally, iron plays an important role in muscle protein production and is an integral part of collagen and several enzymes within the body. The body can only absorb so much iron in a given period. Certain types of elemental iron, such as ferrous sulfate, are well absorbed by the body but can sometimes cause stomach and intestinal cramping. Other elemental forms of iron, such as ferrous gluconate, have better rates of toleration within the body but do not absorb as well as ferrous sulfate. Iron toxicity is possible within the body, but it is very difficult to do so when taking iron in a supplemental form. Excessive iron intake can cause constipation, diarrhea, may increase the risk of heart disease, viral infections and may cause accelerated aging. Vitamin C plays a big role in the absorption of iron, and our bodies require a lot of it in order to assist in the absorption process. Iron is well known for it’s ability to reduce the risk of cancer, boost energy levels and immune systems and facilitates restful sleep. Perhaps most notable is its abilities and extreme importance during pregnancy and pre-pregnancy period.
As mentioned above, iron helps boost the immune system and oxygenate blood cells and muscle tissues within the body. It is an essential mineral that the body requires at all times, including women in the pre-pregnancy phase. Often many women must compensate for lacking a sufficient amount of iron shortly after conception to prevent the many complications associated with iron-deficient pregnancies. Furthermore, studies have shown that maintaining a healthy level of iron within the body increases fertility and helps to prep your body for conception and a healthy pregnancy.
Once pregnant, the body demands far more iron than normal. Pregnancy causes the amount of blood within the female body to increase by almost 50%, which is particularly true in the second and third trimesters. This occurs naturally within the body to help support the baby’s growth and keep the placenta oxygenated and in good health. More blood requires more iron in order to produce enough hemoglobin within the body. Iron deficiencies lead most notably to anemia. Anemia can also be caused by not getting enough folic acid, Vitamin B12, losing a lot of blood, certain types of diseases and blood disorders. Studies have shown that approximately 10% of all women in the Western World suffer from anemia. Iron-deficient anemia during a pregnancy is particularly troublesome, as it can result in low birth weights, infant mortality and/or premature births. Women who experience morning sickness, lose essential nutrients through frequent vomiting, have iron-deficient diets or experience heavy pre-pregnancy menstrual flow are particularly susceptible to becoming anemic.
In some cases, those suffering with anemia may have no symptoms whatsoever. This is why it is so important to speak with your doctor in regards to your iron intake. That being said, common symptoms associated with anemia iron deficiencies can include but are not limited to fatigue, dizziness, muscle weakness, lack of concentration and/or energy levels, sleep deprivation, increased heart rate, heart palpitations, headaches, irritability and shortness of breath.
There are two types of iron. Non-heme iron is found in plants, meats, poultry and fish. Heme iron is easier for your body to absorb and is found exclusively in animal products. Red meat provides the greatest source of iron, but due to its high Vitamin A content, it is recommended that red meat be avoided during pregnancy to avoid pregnancy complications. Check out the Learn Section for more important information on Vitamin A and how it relates to pregnancy.
Make sure you are getting the right amount of iron in the form of a supplement or by consuming foods with high iron content. Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should be getting approximately 18mg of iron per day.
- Meats (including various types of red meat, various livers, oysters, tuna, sardines, cuttlefish and chicken hearts).
- Beans & Legumes (including lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, blackeyed peas, yardlong beans, white beans, mothbeans).
- Grains (including amaranth, whole wheat, sorghum, kamut, spelt, quinoa, barley, rye, bran, buckwheat).
- Fruits & Vegetables generally have poor source of iron, but the Vitamin C helps with iron absorption.