Health Zone: Dr Miriam Stoppard's Health Focus Today: PUMPING IRON - Save Your Strength

Article excerpt

THERE are 600-700 million people in the world who do not get enough iron, probably making it the most common nutritional deficiency in the world.

More than a third of the world's population is iron deficient, which, in many cases, means anaemic.

THE effects of poor iron intake are far-reaching. Iron is needed for haemoglobin (the red pigment in blood) to work properly and carry oxygen to all the body's cells.

Not surprisingly, one of the first signs of low iron intake is tiredness and fatigue.

Women and young girls who diet and eat little meat, poultry and fish, or who turn completely vegetarian, are particularly at risk of running down the body's iron reserves and experiencing symptoms of deficiency.

VULNERABLE YOUNG GIRLS

IN the UK, about 8 per cent of adult women are short of iron, but between 10-20 per cent of younger girls are affected.

Although these girls often appear to be in good health, low iron levels profoundly affect many aspects of their day-to-day lives, including the ability to concentrate and learn in school.

In tests, the IQ of girls who get enough iron in their diets meant the difference of a whole grade in school exams.

YOUNG NEW VEGETARIANS BEWARE

GIRLS who are dieting, and those switching to a vegetarian diet, are particularly at risk.

New vegetarians need to be very careful in the first year of conversion because they often cut out meat completely and don't know how to replace the iron with other foods.

Women and girls who diet and go vegetarian at the same time should think about eating iron-fortified foods or even taking an iron supplement.

Increasing iron intake in this way could make all the difference for youngsters and adults, from the schoolroom to the boardroom, as it's known that a lack of iron leads to impairment of brain functioning, affecting both memory and learning abilities.

WOMEN AT SPECIAL RISK

IT'S not only the brain that suffers from low iron intake. Pregnant women and older people need to take special care.

During pregnancy, if iron stores are already low, the increased demands made by the quickly-growing baby in the last six months of pregnancy may tip the balance and precipitate iron deficiency, adversely affecting the growth of the baby's brain.

Older people can suffer through poor diets, combined with an ageing digestive tract that finds it harder to absorb the iron that's present in foods.

HOW YOU'LL SUFFER

THERE are many reasons for keeping an eye on your iron intake. If not, you could experience:

LOWERING of pain threshold.

INTERFERENCE with your body's temperature-control mechanisms.

INCREASED likelihood of hair loss. …