By: Lucy Morrissey
Casandra LaNeve could barely climb out of bed in the morning and make her way to school.
LaNeve, a first-year community studies student, attributed her exhaustion to lack of sleep. About a year ago though, a blood test revealed that, in fact, she was iron deficient.
And she’s not alone.
Iron deficiency is common but something students should not overlook; in order to better their health, they must pay attention and make changes to more than just their next meal.
“It’s one of the most common nutritional deficiencies,” said Sandra McCormick, health services manager. “Anyone who has an iron deficiency needs to see a doctor or nurse and be assessed.”
Iron is an essential mineral the body needs to construct red blood cells. It helps to carry oxygen from the lungs to each cell so that they can function properly.
People who are iron deficient often experience heightened fatigue and dizziness, said McCormick. They have difficulty maintaining body temperature and they’re at greater risk of catching other illnesses with a depleted immune system. It’s often more difficult for them to concentrate on their school work, she continued, considering the brain works at its utmost potential only with iron helping to support it with oxygen.
First, students should know how much iron they need to consume daily.
Women aged 19-50 need about 18 mg of iron per day. In contrast, men of that age range need about 8 mg, according to the Beef Information Centre.
Iron deficiency is rare for men, said McCormick, adding though that it can be an issue for anyone with an illness causing internal bleeding.
LaNeve said she wasn’t worried receiving word of the deficiency knowing it’s common and that she could move forward taking supplements and making dietary changes. LaNeve, although not vegetarian, isn’t keen on eating meat, she said, and so she increased her intake of iron-dense leafy greens.
The body best absorbs iron from meat, referred to as heme iron, Dhaval Krishikar said, a personal trainer at Goodlife Fitness, in his second year of the fitness and health promotion program at Algonquin.
On the other hand, non-heme iron – which is found in lentils, nuts, eggs and dark, green veggies among other foods – isn’t so easily absorbed.
“A lot of the time, the things you eat alone are not enough but what you eat them with [matters],” said McCormick.
Other nutrients, consumed with iron, can aid in its absorption. Nurses often suggest supplements be taken with a glass of orange juice so that the vitamin C improves absorption – something LaNeve said she does.
Krishikar’s number one piece of advice in preventing iron deficiency is to keep a food diary. He said to focus on everything you eat – the macronutrients (fats, proteins, carbohydrates) that you need larger amounts of as well as the micronutrients, which your body requires but in lesser amounts, like iron.
Additional to diet, the intensity and frequency of an exercise regimen can contribute to iron deficiency developing.
People, especially athletes, who do regular aerobic training, such as long-distance running, may be at greater risk, said Krishikar.
Mindfulness is imperative; students who know how much iron they need and take into consideration all factors contributing to optimal absorption can keep them strong and thinking straight.