WATCH YOUR IRON

Guest post by Rheinallt Morgan

Women lose around 16mg of iron during their average monthly period. Diseases such as anaemia can develop if there is a shortage of iron, symptoms can include shortness of breath and fatigue. Keep it in mind, but don’t fall for the myths.

According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, the average human contains 4 grams of iron. Humans need 10-18 milligrams (mg) of iron a day. Most of the iron in the human body is part of the haem group in haemoglobin, the oxygen carrying molecule in the red blood cells.

Anaemia develops from lack of iron, folic acid or vitamin B12 deficiency, liver disease, chronic excess alcohol intake, chronic inflammation or other diseases such as thalassemia which is more common in Malta and the southern Mediterranean due to genetic factors. Since 10% of the Maltese population are diabetic, anaemia as a chronic disease can be an additional problem, not to mention the three main complications associated with diabetes which should be screened for regularly. These are deterioration in visual acuity (diabetic retinopathy), loss of sensation in the hands and feet (diabetic neuropathy in a “glove and stocking” distribution) as well as kidney disease (diabetic nephropathy).

So, take your iron seriously. Iron is found in meat, fish and poultry, as well as dried beans, peas and lentils. Some fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, can also be good sources of iron.
Some say that a haem source (meat based) of iron is better than a non-haem (vegetable) based source of iron. Vegetarians need an increased intake of iron since it is not absorbed as well as those who eat meat. In the UK and some other countries, flour and cereals have to be fortified with iron and other vitamins by law since the processing of whole wheat into white flour removes most of the nutritional elements found in the wheatgerm.

Also, don’t rush to iron tablets. Doctors and researchers are warning of the dangers of accidental overdose of iron tablets. Even a small number of tablets can be fatal, especially in children and the elderly. If overdose is suspected, prompt action saves lives, telephone for an ambulance and take the medicine packaging with you to the nearest hospital Emergency Department.

Lastly, did you know that the Irish beer Guinness contains iron and was extensively marketed with the slogan “Guinness is good for you”? The campaign is suggesting that it should be taken by pregnant mothers and those convalescing due to its allegedly high iron content, but in fact there is just 0.3mg of iron per pint!

 

Rheinallt Morgan BSc (Hons.) is a Final Year Medical Student at the University of Malta