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WellTips: Iron Deficiency vs. Iron Overload: What Do Our Bodies Really Need?


Spinach resized 600Iron is an important part of our diets and can lead to health issues if we aren’t getting enough. But what about getting too much iron? There is actually a growing concern that Americans might actually be getting too much iron. Researchers looked at data from older Americans who participated in the Framingham Heart Study and found 13% of the participants had high levels of stored iron compared to only 3% who were deficient. Too much or too little iron can be problematic, so it is important to get tested if you have any of the symptoms shown below.

Low iron symptoms and facts:

  • You may feel fatigued, cold, or weak, have heart palpitations or shortness of breath, and be at increased risk for infections.
  • Iron is important in making new red blood cells, so low iron levels can decrease the number of healthy red blood cells that are made. Red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body, may not have enough hemoglobin, making it harder to carry enough oxygen.
  • Infants, young children, and women are most at risk for low iron levels.

High iron symptoms and facts:

  • Too much iron is toxic to the body and can cause symptoms similar to having low iron, including fatigue and heart palpitations. In addition, individuals with excess iron may have abdominal and joint pain, feel depressed, have high blood sugar levels and experience hair loss.
  • Adult men and post-menopausal women are most at risk for iron toxicity.

Iron tips:

Here are some tips to help you get the appropriate amount of iron in your diet. Be sure to speak with your doctor first to determine if there are any steps you should take, such as taking iron supplements.

 If you have LOW iron levels:

  • Use a cast iron skillet for cooking. These skillets will transfer some iron into your food to help increase your iron levels.
  • Eat dark leafy greens which are high in iron. Popeye knew what he was doing when he ate his spinach! Organ meats like liver are also a great source of iron.
  • Ask your doctor if any of the medications you are taking might affect your body’s ability to absorb iron.
  • Vitamin C helps with iron absorption, so if you take a supplement or are eating iron rich foods, try having them with citrus fruits.

If you have HIGH iron levels:

  • Stop taking any supplements that contain iron in them.
  • Cut back on your red meat. Opt for proteins such as fish, chicken, and beans.



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