5 reasons to check your iron levels next time you visit the doctor

Keeping an eye on your iron levels can be your key to preserving emotional wellbeing, energising your life, maintaining cognitive function, safeguarding your cardiovascular health, and fortifying your bones. Here are 5 reasons to keep tabs on your iron levels.

When is the last time you had your iron levels checked? We have a raft of health checks we tick off as we hit different ages and stages, but iron is an important one that can fall by the wayside.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 2015 and 2050, the percentage of the world's population over age 60 years will nearly double from 900 million in 2015 to 2 billion in 2050 and a condition called 'unexplained anemia of ageing' is on their radar.

Anemia increases with age and is particularly common among the oldest and most frail: in a retrospective study of more than 19,000 hospital patients, the incidence of anemia rose from 15% at the ages of 64–69 to 37% in those over aged 90.

Iron is a crucial mineral that can plays a pivotal role in our overall wellbeing and is responsible for important functions, such as transporting oxygen in the blood and a properly functioning immune system – something we may not notice until our levels get low.

Iron is found in a range of foods (and is absorbed better when taken with vitamin C), but if you’re not getting enough from your diet, you can also take a supplement. Your healthcare provider can advise you on the best way to ensure you’re getting enough iron.

While iron deficiency is typically associated with anaemia and tiredness, there are several other health conditions that can be caused by low iron. Here are 6 other reasons to keep an eye on your iron levels.

1. Mood and mental health

Low mood and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, can sometimes be caused by a simple low level of iron. This is because iron is essential for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which plays a key role in regulating mood.

A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that people who were low in iron were more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. Regularly monitoring your iron levels can help you to spot a potential deficiency and increase your iron intake before you suffer from any significant mood or mental health issue, ensuring you maintain your emotional wellbeing.

2. Energy levels and fatigue

Iron deficiency can lead to low energy levels and a feeling of fatigue that you just can’t shake. Sometimes that low energy can become your ‘new normal’ so it can be hard to spot: falling asleep in front of the TV, finding it hard to get started in the morning, or just having less enthusiasm for everyday activities. This happens because of decreased oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood, making it hard for your body to supply cells and tissues with the energy they need.

A study published in Blood found that people with iron deficiency anaemia reported higher levels of fatigue and reduced physical endurance. Having your iron checked regularly can help you to spot a deficiency early, before that low-energy ‘new normal’ has a chance to take hold.

3. Cognitive function

Maintaining your cognitive function and staying sharp is pretty important when it comes to living a fulfilling and active life. Iron plays a vital role in our cognitive processes like memory, concentration, and overall brain health, and research has shown that being deficient in iron can have a negative impact on cognitive function, especially as we get older.

Studies have found that iron-deficient adults aged 65 years and over had lower cognitive scores than those with adequate iron levels, which is a great reason alone to ensure we’re getting enough.

4. Cardiovascular health

Being low in iron can also affect your cardiovascular health. Low iron levels can lead to anaemia, which, in turn, can strain your heart as it works harder to compensate for its reduced capacity to carry oxygen around the body. This added strain on your heart can potentially lead to some serious cardiovascular issues, including heart failure.

A study published Circulation clearly linked iron-deficiency anaemia with an increased risk of heart failure in people aged over 65. Regular iron checks can help detect and address iron deficiencies, reducing your risk of cardiovascular complications.

5. Bone health

We all know that maintaining strong and healthy bones is essential as we age, but while we often ensure we’re getting enough calcium, what many don’t realise is that iron also plays an important role in bone health. Being deficient in iron can lead to a decrease in bone density, especially in post-menopausal women, increasing our risk of fractures and osteoporosis.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that postmenopausal women with iron deficiency had lower bone density compared to those who had healthy iron levels.

Nothing can guarantee us our good health, of course, but if we monitor things like our iron levels, it can give us the information we need to avoid or treat unnecessary health risks. With our iron levels having the potential to impact mood, energy levels, cognitive function, cardiovascular health, and bone health, having our levels checked regularly can help ensure that we're in the best possible health and can continue to enjoy an active and fulfilling life.

Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your iron, or any other health issues.

The information on this page is general information and should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Do not use the information found on this page as a substitute for professional health care advice. Any information you find on this page or on external sites which are linked to on this page should be verified with your professional healthcare provider.

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