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The Iron Reinforcement

Friday, March 04, 2016

Iron supplements are often taken as a quick fix for a deficiency. But, how healthy are they? Khevna Pandit finds out if you really need the pills you’re popping

How many times have you pushed a piece of broccoli to the edge of your plate in disgust? And, how many times have you avoided eating soup because you don’t like the carrots that are in it? We’ve all been there, and some of us are still doing it, but there’s nothing wrong with having food preferences. When there are so many kinds of vitamin supplements available, it no longer seems necessary for you to eat the vegetables that you dislike at all, right? But, is this supplement-popping really doing your system any good? Read on to find out.

What is iron deficiency anemia?
If you feel fatigued after breaking into a full-blooded sprint, or are struck by a bout of dizziness if you spring up to your feet, you probably have iron deficiency anemia. Iron is an essential mineral that your body needs; it helps to transport oxygen in your blood. About two-thirds of the body’s iron is in the form of haemoglobin in your red blood cells. If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make healthy, oxygen-carrying red blood cells. In turn, this lack of red blood cells leads to iron deficiency anaemia. And, without healthy red blood cells, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. Now, is that really something you can afford to compromise on?

Why you might need iron supplements
It’s a common misconception that people who have even the slightest iron deficiency require iron supplements. These supplements are usually taken in the form of tablets or capsules. In extreme cases, iron is also administered by injecting iron compounds directly into your body. However, if your doctor prescribes an iron supplement, there is probably a good reason for it.

  • You may be suffering from anaemia Iron deficiency anaemia is observed predominantly in women who have heavy or prolonged menstruation.
  • You are pregnant Women who aren’t pregnant or nursing have a daily requirement of around 15-18mg of iron, but women who are pregnant need significantly more. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iron for pregnant women is 27mg.
  • You exercise too much According to the NIH, people who engage in intensive workouts or heavy exercise need up to 30% more iron than less active adults.
  • You’re on dialysis People who are on kidney dialysis require extra iron because they are constantly losing a small amount of blood due to the dialysis. Sometimes, the medicines that they take can also use up the iron present in the body.

Beware of side effects
It is possible to consume too much iron if you take iron supplements. Excess dietary iron can lead to diarrhoea, fever, nausea, stomach pain and vomiting. “Anything that is consumed in excess directly affects your digestion. This goes for iron as well, and there are many side effects, which include indigestion, bloating, fatigue and mood swings,” says Dr. Kunal Sharma, a fitness trainer and exercise specialist based in Mumbai. “It is best to lay off any supplement unless there is a dire need or an extreme deficiency,” he adds.

Check with a doctor or physician before you consider self-medication.

“What people don’t understand is that if they eat green leafy vegetables, there is absolutely no need for them to take these supplements,” Dr. Kunal tells us. “Five to six servings of leafy vegetables a day can help you avoid an iron deficiency. Even if there is something you don’t particularly like, you can choose to consume it in a soup, smoothie or even as part of a stir-fry dish for that matter. However, if you must pick a supplement, opt for moringa or spirulina tablets because they have more iron content than spinach,” he advises.

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