Many weight loss surgery patients will experience iron deficiency or iron-deficiency anaemia after their procedure, so in this blog we aim to shed some light on symptoms as well as the role of iron in the body and sources of iron.
The Role of Iron in the Body
Iron is a mineral that forms part of haemoglobin; a protein in our blood responsible for carrying oxygen to all cells throughout the body.
Iron also has many other important roles in the body, and is involved in:
- Cellular function
- Energy production
- Hormone synthesis
- Supporting optimal functioning of the brain, muscles and the immune system
- Neurological development and growth
What is Iron-Deficiency Anaemia?
Iron deficiency refers to a depletion of storage iron (i.e. serum ferritin), and low haemoglobin levels. Symptoms may include lack of energy, mental fog, poor concentration, breathlessness, irritability, brittle nails and hair loss.
Iron-deficiency anaemia, on the other hand, refers to when the haemoglobin levels are severely low, resulting in the body not having enough healthy red blood cells. Symptoms may include reduced immune function resulting in frequent infections, impaired growth and brain development in growing children, sore mouth, cold hands and feet.
Who is at Risk of Iron-Deficiency Anaemia?
Iron-deficiency anaemia remains prevalent, especially among high-risk groups. Some high risk groups include:
- Growing children and adolescents
- Menstruating women
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Endurance athletes
- Regular blood donors
- Those following a vegetarian or vegan diet
- Those with a family history of iron-deficiency anaemia
- Certain population groups i.e. south east Asians or certain indigenous groups
- Those with certain conditions such as coeliac disease and chronic gastritis
In Australia alone, 34% of women of childbearing age and 5% of healthy male adults are iron deficient.
Moreover, iron-deficiency anaemia is very common post weight loss surgery. This is due to smaller amounts of food being consumed and malabsorption.
Sources of Iron
Iron can be naturally founds in many foods. It is also added to some food and drink products (i.e. fortification) and available as a dietary supplement.
Natural sources of iron are found in red meat (beef, lamb, kangaroo, liver), salmon or tuna, sardines, mussels, oysters, pork, chicken breast, snapper, spinach, wholemeal pasta, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds, baked beans, falafel and firm tofu
Foods fortified with iron include certain breads and cereals, milo, Sustagen sport and some protein shakes.
It is also important to note that there are 2 forms of iron:
- Haem iron (from animal foods)
- Non-haem iron (from plant foods)
Haem iron is absorbed by the body almost 10x more easily than non-haem iron.
- Eating vitamin C rich foods with your iron-rich meal, will increase iron absorption, particularly from non-haem sources of iron. Vitamin C rich foods include lemon, tomato, capsicum, chili, berries, orange, pineapple and broccoli.
- Tea, coffee, red wine, some soy proteins and calcium rich foods can block the body’s ability to absorbs non-haem iron. Aim to leave a 2-hour gap between these “iron blockers” and iron-rich foods.