Low levels of these 4 key vitamins and minerals could be sapping your energy, causing migraines and putting you at risk for disease.
4 of 4 | Iron
This mineral is present in red blood cells, carrying oxygen to the body and contributing to cell growth. Iron deficiency, or anemia, is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide, affecting 1.62 billion people. In 2005, the World Health Organization estimated that as much as 80 percent of the global population may
be iron deficient, and a quarter of the world’s population has iron-deficiency anemia, a shortage of red blood cells or blood cells that are too small due to a lack of iron.
The same report found that 30 percent of nonpregnant women between 15 and 50 have iron-deficiency anemia, mainly due to heavy periods, inadequate diet and other disease causes, such as infections. In the United States, 9 to 12 percent of white women and 20 percent of Hispanic and African-American women have iron-deficiency anemia, according to
a report in the journal American Family Physician. While the levels of deficiency aren’t as severe in the U.S. compared to areas in Asia and Africa, it’s still a dangerous problem that can severely affect your health.
“The challenge with iron is that it’s not an easily absorbed nutrient,” says Lisa Young, R.D., Ph.D., a dietitian in New York City and author of The Portion Teller (Three Rivers Press). Even taking a supplement, you may only absorb about 30 percent of the iron it contains.
The recommended dose: The RDA for women ages 19 to 50 is 18 milligrams; over
age 50 it’s 8 mg. Pregnant women need 27 mg. Most women get 10 mg a day, says Applegate.
Even though iron can be difficult for
the body to absorb, more is definitely not better; overloading on it is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. “There’s quite a bit of data showing that women may have a lower rate of heart attack because we don’t have
as much iron in our blood as men do,” says Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom (Bantam). Your body will reduce its absorption of iron if it senses you’re getting too much. But one in 200 people develop hemochromatosis, a disorder in which the body absorbs too much iron, Northrup says.
Warning signs: Fatigue is usually the hallmark of iron deficiency, since you’re not getting enough oxygen to fuel your cells. You may also experience shortness of breath; a swollen, glossy tongue; difficulty concentrating; and frequent infections.
Who’s at risk: Vegans and vegetarians are especially at risk, with researchers in one study concluding that 40 percent of vegans between ages 19 and 50 are iron-deficient. You’re also more likely to be deficient if your diet is too low in calories or fat, you have heavy menstrual periods, are pregnant, are an athlete, or have celiac or Crohn’s disease or a bleeding ulcer.
Get tested: If your doctor suspects you might be suffering from anemia, she’ll order serum ferritin and transferrin tests. She might also run a fecal occult test to check for gastrointestinal bleeding.
How to get it: “Heme” iron comes from foods that contain hemoglobin, meaning animal products such as meat, poultry
and fish. Heme iron is easy to digest and is absorbed readily. “Nonheme” iron is harder
to absorb and comes from plant sources, especially legumes, tofu, spinach and iron- fortified cereals. You can maximize your iron absorption from these foods by pairing them with high-vitamin C foods such as sweet potatoes, broccoli, sweet red peppers, a handful of blueberries or citrus juice, says Andrea N. Giancoli, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Best buy: Nature Made Iron, 65 mg ($6 for 180 tablets; amazon.com)