Everything You Need to Know About Iron
Iron is called a trace mineral, but its effects are mighty. We need it to produce hemoglobin, the oxygen carrier in red blood cells that brings oxygen to the rest of the body. Iron is also needed to produce myoglobin, the oxygen reservoir in the muscle cells.
Iron is notoriously low in the American diet; especially in children one to two years old, and in women ages 12 to 50. Surprisingly, it is also low among athletes, who pack their diets so full of carbohydrates that they tend to omit iron-rich foods.
Inadequate iron stores in the blood cause iron deficiency anemia. Iron is needed for the production of hemoglobin needed for red blood cells. Hemoglobin is important in the transport of oxygen to the body tissues. In the United States, 10-30% of the entire population suffers from iron deficiency anemia. Women are more likely to be anemic because of poor eating habits and blood loss during menstruation. Thus, many women enter pregnancy with reduced iron stores or some level of anemia. According to multiple studies on anemia and pregnancy outcomes, anemia, which is diagnosed early in pregnancy, is associated with increased risks of low birth weight and preterm birth or abortion.
Pregnancy increases the risk of anemia. During pregnancy, the blood volume expands by almost 50%. Most of the increased blood volume is an increase in blood plasma levels, not red blood cells. Since the plasma level increases more rapidly than the red blood cells in the first half of pregnancy, the concentration of red blood cells in the blood is less than during the pre-pregnancy period. As the body works to produce red blood cells at an increased rate, the need for iron may exceeds the available stores. The result is iron deficiency anemia. At least 20% of all pregnant women are anemic. However, this type of anemia, called hemodilutional, does not increase the risk of low birth weight or preterm delivery.