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Iron Deficiency Should Be a Concern Prior to Anemia
by Dr. Cathy Carlson-Rink

Recent studies show that mild iron deficiency robs your body of optimum function well before anemia develops. Good news! Low- dose iron supplementation has been shown to help correct this problem, plus lower doses of iron are safer over time and do not have the side effects of constipation and digestive upset. The message is clear: detect a deficiency before you develop anemia and it is safer to treat and easier to correct.

Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world and for women in North America. Women in a state of iron deficiency typically find their concentration evaporates before they're able to finish tasks, and their ability to "get things done" nose-dives. They also find it hard to exercise for any length of time, and simple physical exertion, like carrying groceries home, may exhaust them.

Unfortunately, many women are unaware they are deficient as iron stores are often not checked during a routine exam. Iron stores (checked with a test called serum ferritin) must be almost completely depleted before a lower red blood cell count (anemia) will develop, meaning mild iron deficiencies are often missed. Women tolerate the fatigue and associated symptoms thinking they are a normal result of our modern-day, fastpaced lifestyle.

Three main symptoms are present with mild iron deficiency or low iron stores: poor concentration, poor tolerance for exercise, and mental and physical fatigue. In a study of teenage girls who were iron deficient (yet not anemic), supplementing with iron improved their verbal learning and memory. Forty-one women between ages 18 and 33, who had a mild iron deficiency, improved their exercise endurance and iron levels in only six weeks, when supplementing with 16 mg of iron/day. In another study, women receiving 10 mg of iron two times/day improved muscle endurance by 15% and muscle strength by 26.5% compared to no improvement with the control group over a six-week period.

More than half the women in a study of 136 between the ages of 18 and 55 with unexplained fatigue had low-serum ferritin levels, which confirms that many women are being misdiagnosed for iron deficiency and untreated.

The deficiency is most common in women between the ages of 15 and 50 as their need for iron is higher during this time due to menstruation and pregnancy. It has more far-reaching effects than just exhaustion. Iron deficiency has been linked with sub-fertility and pregnancy complications. During childbearing years, adequate iron is needed for optimum fertility, proper placenta development at the time of conception, prevention of lowbirth weight babies, and to provide sufficient iron stores for the baby's first six months of life. A woman's iron requirements double during pregnancy and, without proper diet and effective supplementation, iron stores can drop and continue to decline with each subsequent pregnancy due to these increased demands. A recent study of pregnant women showed that a low-dose iron supplement of 20 mg/day from 20-week pregnancy to delivery reduced iron deficiency anemia and iron deficiency at delivery and postpartum without the side effects that usually accompany high-dose iron supplementation.

I have found that the compliance is much better with this type of protocol during pregnancy. High-dose iron supplements during pregnancy are poorly tolerated, as constipation is usually worse at this time. There has also been a concern that doses higher than 60 mg/day may be linked with an increase in low-birth weight and premature births. In animal studies, both iron deficiency and excess have been linked with free-radical damage. Supplementing with pharmacological doses of iron (100 mg/day) along with high intakes of vitamin C has been shown to increase lipid peroxidation (free radicals) in pregnant women. Clearly, preventing deficiencies with iron-rich foods and low-dose iron supplements are a much safer option.

For years, I have recommended Floradix Iron Tonic, by Flora, Inc., for it is specifically designed for prevention and treatment of iron deficiency. Based on the results of a recent study done at the Heidelberg Women's University Clinic, Floradix Iron Tonic was shown effective at bringing iron levels to normal, with 90% of participants able to take it without experiencing side effects. Seventy percent of the women in the study reported improved symptoms versus the 28% who increased iron-rich foods alone. Iron deficiency is not something women have to live with. Fortunately, these symptoms are easily preventable and, with a healthy diet and the use of a high-quality prevention product like Floradix iron tonic, symptoms diminish, normal energy levels return, and quality of life is restored.

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