LOW IRON LEVELS
The human body stores some iron to replace any that is lost. However, low iron levels over a long period of time can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms include lack of energy, shortness of breath, headache, irritability, dizziness, or weight loss. Physical signs of iron deficiency are a pale tongue and spoon-shaped nails.
Those at risk for low iron levels include:
- Women who are menstruating, especially if they have heavy periods
- Women who are pregnant or who have just had a baby
- Long-distance runners
- People with any type of bleeding in the intestines (for example, a bleeding ulcer)
- People who frequently donate blood
- People with gastrointestinal conditions that make it hard to absorb nutrients from food
Babies and young children are at risk for low iron levels if they do get the right foods. Babies moving to solid foods should eat iron-rich foods. Infants are born with enough iron to last about six months. An infant's additional iron needs are met by breast milk. Infants that are not breastfed should be given an iron supplement or iron-fortified infant formula.
Children between age 1 and 4 grow rapidly. This uses up iron in the body. Children of this age should be given iron-fortified foods or iron supplements.
Milk is a very poor source of iron. Children who drink large quantities of milk and avoid other foods may develop "milk anemia." Recommended milk intake is two to three cups per day for toddlers.
TOO MUCH IRON
The genetic disorder called hemochromatosis affects the body's ability to control how much iron is absorbed. This leads to too much iron in the body. Treatment consists of a low-iron diet, no iron supplements, and phlebotomy (blood removal) on a regular basis.
It is unlikely that a person would take too much iron. However, children can sometimes develop iron poisoning by swallowing too many iron supplements. Symptoms of iron poisoning include:
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Grayish color to the skin