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Iron and Your Red Blood Cells

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

I've briefly mentioned Vitamin D, calcium, and B-12 as nutrients to consider if you are a vegetarian or vegan. There is one more nutrient that is of particular interest to not only vegetarians and vegans, but for everyone, including athletes.

Day 8: Iron deficiency and toxicity is serious business

Iron is a mineral that is mostly found in animal products, with the exception of some plants like spinach. Similarly to calcium, the absorption rate in plants is not as high as in animals, therefore making it a nutrient of concern for vegetarians and vegans.

The reason I mention it as a nutrient of concern for athletes or highly active individuals is because when you pound on your feet like on a tennis court or running on the pavement you "heel strike" each time you take a step. This destroys red blood cells. Since iron's main role is to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carry oxygen to your cells and makes myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to your muscles and the ability to get oxygen, can diminish with physical activity. Female athletes are the most at risk of iron deficiency since they are destroying red blood cells through exercise and excreting blood through menstruation. Females need 18 mg of iron a day, whereas males only need 8 mg a day.

In my practice, I see iron deficiency ALL THE TIME. Symptoms of iron deficiency are fatigue, feeling dizzy when you stand up, general weakness, cold hands and feet, brittle nails, and fast heartbeat. Most people describe it as driving with the hand brake on all the time. Iron deficiency is easily preventable, so why drive with the brake on if you don't have to? The easy solution might be to go to the pharmacy and grab an iron supplement, but please don't do that! Iron, in excess, is toxic. Symptoms of toxicity are very similar to those of deficiency. In fact, some people have a genetic predisposition to iron toxicity called hemochromatosis. This is very dangerous and can lead to organ damage.

So, what is the right solution? Ask your doctor for a blood test to asses your iron status, and at the very least, rule out anemia as a root cause of your symptoms. Or, click on the link below and schedule an assessment and we'll get you all set up.

Jen Pfeilfer, MS, APD

Dr. Thomas R. Schneider, Medical Director

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