Iron deficiency: Why we suffer from it

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Daily iron requirements are particularly high for women before they reach the menopause. This is of course due in part to the blood loss associated with periods. The recommended daily intake is in fact 16 mg/day for women compared with 9 mg/day for men. And during pregnancy, this requirement rises to as much as 50 mg/day!

In France, for example, 3% of women of reproductive age suffer from what specialists call ferriprive anaemia.

This condition needs to be taken seriously because it has genuine repercussions on physical condition and quality of life, including fatigue, sensitivity to cold, tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and breathlessness with exertion, heart murmur, headache and buzzing in the ears, low libido, memory problems and difficulty making decisions.

For pregnant women suffering from iron deficiency – or worse still, anemia – doctors will prescribe iron salts. A check-up after three months will establish the patient’s iron levels and make sure that the anemia is on the way to being cured. Of course, prevention is better than cure.

As it is common for pregnant women to suffer from iron deficiency, the recommended balanced diet, rich in iron, is often supplemented by the preventive prescribing of iron salts in tablet form.

The foodstuffs richest in iron are red meat, poultry and fish, which contain 20 mg to 26 mg per 100 g. However, only 10% to 20% of this will actually be absorbed.

Vegetables too contain iron, but in smaller quantities. And only 1% to 10% of the amounts consumed will be effectively absorbed.

Furthermore, and unlike the iron provided by meat products, absorption of the iron contained in vegetables is heavily influenced by the other foods with which these are associated: for example, iron is more easily assimilated when combined with vitamin C, but absorption is reduced when taken with tea or coffee.

Overall, and given that more than half our iron intake comes from meat sources, an exclusively vegetarian diet is likely to lead to insufficient iron intake to fulfil our needs.

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