What diseases are caused due to iron deficiency?

Two-thirds of the body’s iron is found in hemoglobin, a blood protein that transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Any blood loss results in a loss of iron, which is why 15 percent of premenopausal women fall short on this mineral. Mothers-to-be and toddlers are also at high risk of deficiency. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide. However, too much iron can also be damaging. This is why vitamin pills for premenopausal women contain iron, but those for others do not.

A University of Michigan study found that iron-deficient babies grew up with lower motor skills and mental measures. Symptoms of iron deficiency include low energy, difficulty maintaining body temperature and impaired immune response. Among pregnant women, iron deficiency may result in premature deliveries and low birth weights.

New research suggests that absent nutrients -- not just excess calories -- may be contributing to childhood obesity. In a national sample of nearly 10,000 subjects, between the ages of 2 and 16, University of Rochester researchers found a significantly higher prevalence of iron deficiency among obese children. In fact, the obesity-iron deficiency link was so strong that the authors of the study recommend that an elevated body mass index (BMI) be considered an independent risk factor in anemia screening. And a Yale University study demonstrated that iron deficiency is twice as common in overweight versus healthy-weight teens.

Several studies suggest that iron deficiency may raise the risk of lead poisoning among children, because low iron levels actually increase the intestinal absorption of lead.

For Vegetarians

Animal-derived iron is more easily absorbed than iron from plant sources. Vegetarians need to make a conscious effort to incorporate plenty of healthy iron sources into their diet. Foods rich in vitamin C can help enhance iron absorption, whereas the phytic acid found in soy inhibits it. In addition, foods containing prebiotic fiber help increase the bioavailability of iron and other minerals. A Cornell University animal study found that prebiotic fiber increased iron absorption by 28 percent.

For Athletes

Regular endurance exercise can increase your iron needs by as much as 30 percent. Workouts that push the body beyond its normal limit can lead to blood loss via microscopic tears in the gastrointestinal tract.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.