Iron: Important for the Whole Family
Caitlyn Vanderhaeghe, B.A., B.Ed.
Iron is an essential mineral that everyone needs in order to be healthy and feel good.
Iron is one of the nutrients needed in blood production and the creation of red blood cells. Within each red blood cell is an iron-containing protein called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin binds with oxygen and carries it to our cells, tissues, and muscle.
But iron needs don’t end with childhood. Iron is important for optimal health at every age. Iron deficiency can negatively impact both our physical and mental health.
Iron needs increase greatly in both teenage girls and boys due to greater blood volume and lean muscle growth. While girls and boys metabolize iron similarly, menstruating girls lose iron and therefore their needs are greater.
Teenagers may also have additional needs due to activity levels and diet changes. Teens who exercise or take part in sports will lose iron through sweat, urine, and the gastrointestinal tract when exercising. Red blood cells are also depleted during exercise and iron is needed to make more. Red blood cells do not live as long in athletic people as they do in sedentary people. This is due to increased body temperature, oxidative stress, and feet striking the ground.
In teens, low iron can cause fatigue, irritability, trouble concentrating in school, behavioural changes, and reduced immunity leading to more infections, colds, and flus.
Risk factors that increase risk of iron deficiency for teens:
- Have begun menstruation, due to blood loss
- Vegetarian or vegan diets due to inadequate iron levels in food
- Athletic or active teens, due to increased loss of iron during activity
- Poor diet high in processed foods, due to inadequate iron in food
- Digestive health issues such as celiac or Crohn’s
As with teen girls, mensuration puts women at an increased risk of iron deficiency. Iron is important for the general health of women, as it is involved in energy levels, brain function, immunity, and fertility. Women’s risk of deficiency and daily need for iron increase greatly during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.
Menstruating women need to put extra care into monitoring iron levels, eating an iron-rich diet, and supplementing because it is so hard to keep iron stores up.
Risk factors that increase risk of iron deficiency for women:
- Being a vegetarian or vegan
- Eating a diet low in iron-containing foods
- Poor digestion or conditions that affect the digestive tract (colitis, Crohn’s Disease, celiac disease)
- Menstruation, especially heavy menstruation (more than 5.5 tbsp a day or longer than 7 days)
- Reduced appetite or vomiting due to morning sickness
- Having multiple pregnancies close together
- Being pregnant with two or more babies
While most men receive enough iron through diet alone, some men are at a greater risk of iron deficiency.
Risk factors that increase risk of iron deficiency for men:
- Vegans and vegetarians
- Men with ulcers or digestive diseases such colitis or Crohn’s
- Men who donate blood frequently
If you are a male who has any of the above risk factors, it is advised you have a blood test to check your ferritin levels. An iron supplement may be necessary and will help you to ensure you are getting adequate iron.
Iron Deficiency Can Have Serious Health Effects
Complications of untreated iron deficiency include depression, heart problems, reduced immunity, infertility, and complications during pregnancy.
Mood and Behaviour – Iron is involved in proper brain development and function. A deficiency in iron can affect how the brain works. For example, iron is involved in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters help to regulate mood and sleep, and are involved in learning and memory. Low iron during early stages of development can lead to behavioural and mood problems in children. Iron deficiency has been shown to increase the risk or post-partum depression in new moms, as well as anxiety and depression in adults.
Cognitive function – Healthy iron levels are needed for cognitive function in children, teens, and adults. Low levels can impair attention, memory, and our ability to learn.
Low Energy and Heart Problems – When iron stores become low, red blood cell production drops and the amount of oxygen reaching our cells is reduced. In response, the heart must work harder to get oxygen to our cells. When the heart must work harder it can lead to fatigue. Over time, this added strain can cause enlargement of the heart and even heart failure.
Immunity – Iron is involved in the development and function of the immune system. Deficiency impairs immune function and increases the occurrence of infections, cold, and flus.
Fertility – Without adequate iron levels, fertility can suffer. Low iron levels can negatively effect ovulation. Iron deficiency during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage.
Pregnancy Complications – Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia can all increase the chances of low birth weight, pre-eclampsia, placental abruption, and postpartum hemorrhage.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency and Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron deficiency can go unnoticed for years. Symptoms do not always occur or can be hard to spot until things are very bad. Some common symptoms of iron deficiency are:
- Cold hands and feet
- Craving ice, dirt, or other strange non-food cravings (pica)
- Dark under-eye circles
- Difficulty paying attention or performing mental tasks
- Difficulty problem solving
- Heart palpitations
- Low energy or weakness when exercising
- Pale skin, lips, and lining of eyelids
- Reduced immune function – sick more often
- Restless legs syndrome (uncontrollable feeling to move legs, or twitching and tingling feelings)
- Shortness of breath
- Thinning or curved nails
Did You Know?
Iron deficiency can go unnoticed for years.
How Much Iron Do You Need?
- Children 7 months to 13 years – 10 mg daily
- Girls 14 to 18 years – 15 mg daily
- Boys 14 to 18 years – 10 mg daily
- Women 19 – 50 years 18 mg daily
- Pregnancy – 30 mg daily
- Lactating – 10 mg daily
- Men 19 to 50 – 8 mg daily
- Women 50 and up – 8 mg
It can be extremely hard to reach daily iron needs from food alone. Especially for picky eaters, active people, menstruating women, and pregnant women. An iron supplement will help to ensure needs are met.
KidStar® BioFe® Iron
KidStar® BioFe® is gentle and will not upset sensitive stomachs or stain teeth like common iron supplements.
The iron in BioFe is micronized and microencapsulated, protecting you from the side effects of iron, like constipation, black stools, tummy upset, and grey teeth. Microencapsulation also allows BioFe iron to be taken at the same time as foods and nutrients containing calcium.
BioFe+ Iron Liquid is safe for the whole family, from infancy to adulthood.
Like all KidStar nutrients, our iron supplements do not contain sugar, artificial colours, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavours, soy, gluten and GMOs.
Quick Tips to Increase Iron
- Serve foods rich in vitamin C (fruits and vegetables) at the same time as foods containing iron
- Increase heme-iron containing foods such as organic egg yolks, organic chicken livers, grass-fed beef
- Vegetarians should soak legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds to help remove phytic acid, which hinders iron absorption
- Use cast iron pans for cooking to increase iron; they impart iron into the food when cooking
- Cook with the Lucky Iron Fish Cooking Tool
- Avoid high calcium foods when consuming high iron foods
- Avoid dairy products if deficient in iron
- Avoid caffeine-containing foods when eating iron (chocolate, tea, sodas)
- Supplement with BioFe to help prevent iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia
- Address any underlying conditions such as ulcers or heavy periods.
Find iron products here
Gentle, unflavoured, pure iron drops in an MCT base.
BioFe® Pure Iron Drops
Iron for the Family Bundle
Iron for the Family Bundle
Gentle, delicious, iron liquid formula for toddlers, children, and older.
BioFe+® Iron Liquid
About the Author
Caitlyn Vanderhaeghe, B.A., B.Ed., is a health advocate, licensed teacher, and CEO of KidStar Nutrients. Caitlyn’s experience spans more than a decade of supply chain and ingredients sourcing in the natural products industry. As a mother of three daughters, Caitlyn’s mission is to help educate parents about kids’ nutrition and provide clean nutrients for kids and families.