The Goldilocks Zone of Iron

IronIntake

 

How to get the not too little, not too much, just right amount of iron.

I was recently asked how to boost iron intake and  wanted to share this information as iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States. And is affecting about 9 percent of women, according to the most recent stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Without iron life would cease to exist. Every living thing: plants, animals, humans and bacteria need this essential micro-nutrient to survive and grow. The catch is that the human body does not produce iron which means it has to come from our food.

We only need a tiny amount of this nutrient to create blood, efficiently deliver oxygen throughout the body and carry carbon dioxide and other bi-products of cellular respiration out of the body.

Without enough iron, we have to work a whole lot harder to get the energy we need. With too much iron, the body will eventually oxidize from the inside out.

Like the rest of nature, this is requires a delicate balance.

Symptoms of an iron imbalance include:

  • Weak and easily tired
  • Dizziness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headaches
  • Pale face
  • Short of breath
  • Hair loss and brittle nails
  • Change in menstrual cycle
  • Thyroid related conditions (hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, etc)
  • Liver related diseases or inflammation

The good news is that it’s really not so hard to balance our iron levels just by changing a few eating habits.

In a matter of just 3 weeks, one of my clients was able to get his elevated iron levels from a dangerous 300+  back to a healthy 150 ng/mL, plus all his other blood work fell in line.

Too Little

This is most often caused by a dietary deficiency, an issue with absorption or a hereditary condition. To increase iron levels:

  • Add a multivitamin that contains iron along with other minerals (specifically: Zinc, B12, Folate, Copper, Vitamin C) that will make the iron easier for your body to utilize.
  • Increase consumption of iron rich foods: beef, pork, duck, liver, tuna, salmon, egg yolk, clams, oysters, dark leafy greens, soy beans, broccoli, dried apricots, dried figs, beans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, whole grains, blackstrap molasses, lentils, artichokes, beets.
  • Increase consumption of foods that boost iron absorption: oranges, cantaloupe, strawberries, grapefruit, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, citric acid, red wine. The perfect new excuse for a glass of wine!
  • Limit consumption of foods that inhibit iron absorption and those foods which act as natural binding agents, especially within 2 hours of eating iron rich foods. For instance, experiments have demonstrated people absorb much less iron from bread when their meals include egg protein (Hurrell et al 1999; Hurrell et al 1988). Many healthy foods contain iron absorption inhibitors. It’s not about cutting these out of your diet but just being aware of eating these foods before, during or after a meal that contains iron rich foods.
    • Foods that inhibit iron absorption: rhubarb, egg protein, cocoa, peppermint, chamomile, antacids, calcium supplements
    • Foods that bind to iron (natural chelating): green tea, coffee, cranberry, pomegranate, rosemary
  • Cook in iron pots & pans. In one study, the iron content in spaghetti sauce tripled after it had been simmered in a cast iron pot. Sauté vegetables and other foods this way as often as you can to rev up intake.

Too Much

Imagine a car that’s been left outside un-cared for over a long period of time. Eventually, it starts to rust and decay. This same oxidation process is happening on the inside of a person who has too much iron.

Iron collects in organs such as the liver, heart, joints, pancreas and pituitary causing these organs to function poorly or not to work at all. Overload most commonly happens because of over consumption or due to a hereditary condition and is a risk factor for several modern diseases.

To reduce iron levels:

  • Remove iron fortified foods from diet – check breads, cereals, pasta and other packaged products.
  • Remove iron supplements or multivitamins that contain iron.
  • Limit alcohol consumption when eating iron rich foods.
  • Limit consumption of iron rich foods within 2 hours of consuming foods that boost iron absorption.
  • Avoid consumption of well water.
  • Avoid food cooked in iron pots & pans.
  • Donate blood regularly – this will reduce overall iron storage levels.
  • Increase intake of foods that naturally bind (chelate) to iron and/or inhibit iron absorption.

 Getting It Just Right

The best way to gauge iron levels is through a blood test that measures serum iron and serum ferritin. You can get this from a lab or doctor’s office.

One of the most likely reasons someone may have trouble with absorption or the natural elimination process through chelation is tied to their gut health and food sensitivities. An elimination diet is a short 10 day experimental process, I take all of my clients through to determine which foods could be wreaking havoc on their body.

Shoot me a note or leave a comment if you’d like more information on this 10 day elimination diet. 

 

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