Hands up if you’re feeling tired even after a solid night’s sleep? Join the club! It could be an iron deficiency: a recent study shows that about one in two women are deficient in iron.
Which metal is more precious: gold or iron? For the functioning of the human body, there’s no contest – iron, of course. It’s an essential trace element, which means it’s indispensable, as in, you cannot live without it.
Testament to its importance is that scientists have long known the effects of its deficiency. Iron is called a ‘trace’ element because the amounts we need of it (and the 13 others identified so far) each day is minuscule.
THE JOB DESCRIPTION FOR IRON
It may just be present in the tiniest of traces, but it’s hard-working, and its list of tasks is long. Number one on that list is helping carry oxygen round your body. Iron is a key component of haemoglobin, the protein found in your red blood cells. Haemoglobin attaches to the oxygen you breathe in and takes it from the lungs to the rest of your body. Too little iron means too few red blood cells, which in turn means too little oxygen. One telltale sign is tiredness. When the number of red blood cells drops below a certain level, it’s called iron deficiency anaemia, though you can have anaemia without having an iron deficiency.
Two knock-on effects of a lack of oxygen are lowered immunity (so you get sick more often) and a lowered ability to concentrate. The lack of iron – and oxygen – also affects your body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
Iron also helps our muscles to store and use oxygen, and forms part of enzymes that help to digest food, among other functions.
Pregnant women have a heightened need for iron, and a severe deficiency could mean a preterm or a smaller than-normal baby. These too-tiny tots are sadly at greater risk of health problems or death before they’ve even reached a year.
SO WHERE DO YOU GET IT?
Oysters! And chocolate! Yes, really.
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