Let’s first understand why iron is an important mineral for our body. It ensures the proper function of hemoglobin, a protein needed to transport oxygen in the blood. Iron also has a role in a variety of other important processes in the body like general energy and focus, gastrointestinal processes, the immune system, and the regulation of body temperature.
The body cannot make iron; you must acquire it through your diet. Dietary iron is processed and absorbed by the mucosal cells of the small intestine and iron within the body is constantly being recycled and reused (e.g., in red blood cell turnover). There are two types of iron, non-heme which are from plants and heme which come from animal products. Heme is more easily absorbed by the body but that doesn’t mean non-heme doesn’t have the same affect, you just need to combine it with adequate amount of vit c rich foods. Consuming non-heme foods with pure orange juice/vitamin C will increase the absorption of iron by up to 70%.
Do you know what I find odd? Is that women can absorb up to 3X more iron from a meal compared to men, pregnant women can absorb up to 9X more, and even those who menstruate with a normal blood loss flow still have a high absorption rate of iron (for those with endocrine issues like endometriosis/PCOS etc. please monitor your flow, if you feel it’s in excess go have it checked with your doctor). Yet, the rate of iron deficiency/anemia diagnoses are far higher in women than men!
Let’s just take a step back and understand one of the reasons why women have higher iron absorption rates. Estrogen levels are higher compared to men and estrogen increases iron absorption.
So, should a more accurate name for Anemia be iron dysregulation and not deficiency? Maybe the iron is stored in the tissues, and we just need to get our body to release it.
The body has a robust system at dealing with iron, it must be “strict” as the body has no natural way to rid itself of excess iron.
Like everything in the body, we can’t look at one thing in isolation, the body is one eco-system!
Iron goes hand in hand with copper, stress, and inflammation. It’s a given that women are more prone to stress, hence why iron issues are usually prevalent in women. Without copper, iron turns to rust.
Inadequate copper intake or taking things that deplete copper like certain supplements like iron, hormone-D, certain zinc forms, ascorbic acid, multivitamins, AND stress all affect iron levels.
Yes, you heard right, iron supplements could be adding to the problem.
Increased dietary and supplemental iron → Increase magnesium deficiency → Increased oxidative stress → Increase protein oxidation → Increased chronic disease (that are often labeled as Neurodegenerative Disease, Heart Disease, Liver Disease, Kidney Disease, Cancer, etc.)
Two most important functions of copper in relation to iron:
- Copper is required to regulate iron.
- Stress causes copper to become bound up and unavailable, making iron store in the tissues.
Both copper deficiency and stress can lead to low metabolic function, which has its own cascading effects on iron. When I say “stress,” it can be many things — physical, emotions, environmental, pharmaceutical, etc. Regardless, these drivers can turn on the sympathetic nervous system, putting us in a constant “fight or flight” state.
Inflammation also causes the body to hold on to the iron and not release it, so you may not be iron deficient, you just need to help your body release and absorb the stores.
When iron is showing low on the blood work, it is not unreasonable to assume that a pathogenic infection has triggered our immune system to do what it has been designed to do, protect us! It pulls most of the iron out of the blood and puts it into a safe storage. Why does it do that? Because pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites) feast of our iron. So as long as it’s there, the body is smart enough to hide the iron away, so the infection doesn’t grow.
10 Common Signs of Iron Overload
- Chronic fatigue
- Period or fertility problems
- Histamine intolerance
- Frequent infections or overgrowth of bacteria (hello UTI’s/thrush/yeast infection)
- Autoimmune conditions
- Nervous system disorders
- Arthritis or other inflammatory conditions
- Hair or skin pigment changes
- Endocrine disorders
How do we get the iron out of our tissues? A few tips:
- Rethink supplements that are destroying copper levels, like iron, hormone-D, zinc, ascorbic acid, multivitamins, etc.
- Avoid iron-fortified foods
- Consume copper-rich foods (like liver, oysters, shiitake mushrooms, and spirulina, are all very high in copper. Decent amounts are found in other organ meats and shellfish, other mushrooms, seaweed, potatoes, legumes, and whole grains.
- Consume Vitamin A-rich foods (The body can’t make this vitamin so we must obtain it from foods like liver, fish, eggs, and dairy products and if you’re vegan look out for orange, red, yellow, and leafy green veg and fruit. Vitamin A is only found its active form called retinol from animal products and the precursor to vitamin A which are carotenoids in fruits and veggies are converted to vitamin A by the body).
So before turning to supplementation first, have a look at your:
- Thyroid activity
- Gut health
A few things to ask your doctor when you go for a checkup/blood test:
1. “Given that ferritin is not synthesized in the blood, exactly how does a serum measurement of ferritin (i.e., an extracellular marker), relate to or have any relevance to the intracellular ferritin protein level. Ferritin is found inside the cell, and that the serum level of ferritin (outside of cell) should be zero, right?”
2. “What’s the status of my hemoglobin, given that 80% of my body’s iron is circulated there — as opposed to ferritin that has 10% of the body’s iron?”
3. Do you offer the full Full Monty Iron Panel. I heard it is the best way to truly understand what’s going on when it comes to Iron metabolism and a great way to check in on other nutrients, including Copper, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and Zinc.
See you in the next blog lil pumpkins!