There's been a lot of talk recently about nutrient deficiencies, particularly when it comes to something like vitamin D.
One nutrient that may not get as much attention -- but actually should -- is iron.
In fact, many doctors and other healthcare providers often think that the only people who need iron supplements are menstruating women. This is a severe misconception.
Research has shown that for optimal health, you should be getting 20 mg of iron from your diet every day. Unfortunately, the average North American individual only gets eight mg per day.
What consequences can an iron deficiency have?
In children, not having enough iron can lead to poor height and brain development. Women who were deficient at the time of pregnancy may give birth to babies who will eventually have lower IQ levels. And, iron deficiency can lead to miscarriages.
Symptomatically, low iron levels can lead to loss of energy, chronic exhaustion, hair loss, peeling fingernails and dark circles under your eyes. It can also be a precursor to a foggy, scattered brain, as evidenced by a recent study.
In the study, researchers divided teen girls into two groups: those with adequate levels of iron and those with low levels. When the teens with adequate levels were given a written test, their results were much better than those girls with low levels of iron. Later in the study, the group with low-level iron was re-tested after their levels were brought up, and they did as well as the adequate level group.
If you're have low iron, does that mean you're anemic?
There is a difference between being anemic and suffering from an iron deficiency. Both can present symptoms, but in a doctor's eyes, the range of "normal" is so broad that if you're deficient in iron, he or she may not bring it to your attention. That's why it's essential that you ask for your blood tests. Your hemoglobin and feritin levels should both be in the mid-range or you're going to start to see symptoms.
The good news is that once you bring your levels up to normal, the symptoms can be reversed.
Since many people don't get enough iron from diet, what sort of supplements should you look for?
The majority of iron supplements are sold in the wrong dose and/or form. If the label doesn't say "Elemental Iron," don't buy it. Adults should be taking 10-30 mg of elemental iron and 10 mg for kids; especially if you have kids that don't eat red meat or egg yolks.
What about vegetables? It's actually really difficult to get iron from veggies like spinach, because your body can't effectively extract and then absorb the iron from the plant.
This is why it's so essential if you're vegetarian or vegan to supplement with iron.
Lorna Vanderhaeghe, MS, is a women's natural health expert and has been researching nutritional medicine for over 30 years. In this segment, she joins Andrea to explain the importance of iron for optimal health, as well as the right supplements to consider.