Iron is an essential mineral for the correct performance of certain important functions of our body. It plays a role in the formation of haemoglobin, a protein present in red blood cells that facilitates the transportation of oxygen to all tissues, in the formation of myoglobin, a protein present in muscles and certain important enzymes, such as cytochromes. Iron is also an important element for the correct development of the immune system and normal cognitive function.
In some cases, however, there may be factors that lower normal levels of iron in the blood. When iron levels are below physiological levels, we are dealing with an iron deficiency. This condition helps to define what, in medical terms, is referred to as sideropenia.
An iron deficiency can occur mainly for 3 reasons:
Low intake of the mineral through diet.
Physiological conditions that lead to an increased need (pregnancy, breastfeeding, baby growth, menstrual cycle).
Pathological conditions (bleeding, diseases that modify the intestinal absorption of iron).
There are many typical symptoms of an iron deficiency, but the feeling of general weakness, irritability, headache, shortness of breath and pale skin and mucous membranes are the most common. In some cases, iron deficiency can weaken nails and some people have reported a continuous feeling of cold hands and feet.
The severity of iron deficiency-related disorders depends on many factors:
age (children need more iron to support growth);
When the iron consumed through diet is not sufficient or when physiological or pathological conditions produce a lower the amount of iron circulating in the blood (serum iron) and, consequently, a possible lower haemoglobin level it is necessary to intervene to restore the normal physiological levels of this nutrient.
Under normal health conditions, a varied and balanced diet guarantees the right amount of iron for the body. However, in some cases, it may be necessary to address iron deficiency with a nutritional supplement.