The essential nutrient is needed to make the oxygen-carrying proteins hemoglobin, found in red blood cells, and myoglobin, found in muscles, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Iron is also needed for the transportation electrons within cells, and for important enzyme systems in various tissues.
Slideshow: 17 Signs You Have Iron Deficiency
Lack of iron is the most common known form of nutritional deficiency. Its prevalence is highest among young children and women of childbearing age and pregnant women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.
The most important thing about iron deficiency is to find why there is a lack of it in the first place, Priyanka Pathak, MD, oncologist at Geisinger Health System, says. “Replacing it is just like putting a Band-Aid on; you have to find the real problem.”
Mild anemia often goes undiagnosed for a long time because the body adjusts itself to function with lack of enough red blood cells, and people feel like this is their new normal, Dr. Pathak says. “Feeling tired all the time isn’t exactly a unique; many think it’s just part of getting old.”
“We are seeing more people who don’t absorb iron properly,” she says. It is just going through their system without doing its job. “This may be due to gluten sensitivity, Celiac disease or other medical conditions, Dr. Pathak says.
The recommended daily dietary allowance for iron for 19-to-50-year-old women is 18 milligrams and 8 mg for men. It doesn’t sound like much, but between 10 and 15 percent of adults in the U.S. don’t have enough and thousands are hospitalized every year.