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Iron: What You Need to Know

Iron is an essential mineral in the human body since it is found in the hemoglobin of red blood cells that are responsible for transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide. Its deficiency causes anemia. But in excess it is harmful. Find out where you find it, what it is recommended for and much more.

Like many good things in life, iron is obtained through food. There are first sources: beans, eggs (especially yolks), cereals (and there are fortified cereals, too), liver, lean meat, oysters, chicken, dark meat, salmon and tuna. There are some foods from which the body finds it more difficult to obtain iron -although it does obtain it- such as some dried fruits (raisins, apricots), legumes (soy, peas or pea), some seeds (almonds), vegetables (leafy vegetables) green, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, among many others), and some whole grains(wheat, oats and brown rice). Iron is found in food in two forms: iron heme and iron not heme. The body absorbs heme iron better, which is found in products of animal origin. Sometimes, this can be a problem for vegetarians. In these cases, iron supplements may be indicated (of course, if your doctor tells you).

There are supplements that are used to treat these deficiencies and a type of anemia – the most common – anemia caused by iron deficiency in the body. There are several reasons why the amounts of this mineral in the body can be compromised: if you lose more red blood cells than your body can produce (by bleeding); if your body is not good at producing them; if your body is good to produce them, but you do not consume the nutrients you need to produce them, or if your body needs more iron than normal (such as during pregnancy or breastfeeding). Of course, there are other types of anemia due to the destruction of red blood cells.

Lack of iron

Iron deficiencies often go unnoticed for a long time because they may not give symptoms.

When the body does not obtain the necessary amounts it begins to borrow from some organs that store it (the liver, the spleen, etc.), but when these sources are exhausted, the problems can begin.

The most common symptoms of anemia include: fatigue, difficulty concentrating, upset stomach, difficulty with memory and, in infants and young children, can cause difficulty with learning. Nothing good. The people most likely to suffer from iron deficiencies are women (during pregnancy or menstrual period, especially if it is very long), those with intestinal disorders (as the absorption of nutrients is difficult) or intestinal bleeding (such as ulcers), those who donate a lot of blood, long-distance runners and people with serious health problems, such as some types of cancer. Also babies and children under two years of age, as well as older adults, are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency.

In the case of babies, it is important that their diet is adequate from the first day . In the case of a healthy newborn, his reserve of iron is around six months and with the mother’s milk the rest of his mineral needs must be satisfied. In case your baby (if you have it, of course) does not feed with breast milk, it is necessary to take iron supplements or iron-fortified formula.

Adolescents are also susceptible to iron-deficiency anemia because they grow rapidly because, in many cases, they have a poor diet .

What does science say ?

Scientific evidence supports the use of iron for the treatment of iron deficiency anemia that is diagnosed with a blood test. If there is no response to oral iron treatment (taken), intravenous iron (in the vein) can be given. An example would be a woman who has very heavy menstrual periods.

The studies also support the administration of iron together with a medicine called erythropoietin (sold under different brand names) for the treatment of anemia associated with chronic diseases (such as cancer) in a patient receiving chemotherapy or who have renal failure. , for example).

Studies suggest that it could help in the prevention of iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy and in women who have menstrual cycles; that could help children who have problems with learning or memory and to prevent cough in people who develop it as a side effect of ACE inhibitor drugs to lower their blood pressure. In these cases, the results of the studies are mixed and more research is required.

Regarding the use of iron for the treatment of anemia before dialysis, to prevent anemia in babies with low birth weight, to improve symptoms in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) , after of orthopedic surgery, in cases of fatigue, depression, to improve physical performance, scientific evidence at this time is not enough and more studies are required.

Precautions and interactions

Iron can cause side effects in the digestive system, the most common is constipation, but it can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stools may darken. Liquid iron can also darken teeth.

On the other hand, excess iron can be dangerous. This condition has two sources: 1) primary hemochromatosis, which comes from the family (it is hereditary). Neither way and 2) secondary, which is caused by blood disorders (such as anemia or thalassemia), alcoholism or recurrent blood transfusions, among other conditions. To treat it, just take a diet low in iron, do not take vitamin supplements that contain it, do not drink alcohol, and so on. In more serious cases, there is a treatment that involves removing half a liter of blood from the body each week until iron levels normalize. Please, do not try it at home! But there are those who can cause the excessive accumulation of iron in the blood (hemosiderosis) byTake excess iron supplements .

Iron can interact with some medicines, could decrease the absorption of medicines for osteoporosis (such as Fosamax and Actonel, among others) and tetracycline, while there are medications that can increase the absorption of iron, such as allopurinol. On the other hand, antacids and cholestyramine can reduce the absorption of iron, so they must be taken at least four hours and two hours apart, respectively. These are just some examples. It also interacts with some herbs, with other minerals and vitamins. Taking iron with coffee or dairy products also decreases their absorption. It is important that you always ask your doctor.

Iron must be obtained, mainly, through the nutrients in the food, unless directed by your doctor and supervised periodically.

Remember that before you start taking any supplement it is best to consult your doctor and, if you take any supplement, vitamin and / or herb, even if it is sold without a prescription, it is important that you let it know since all can have side effects and interactions.

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