Iron is an essential nutrient for humans—and the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. It causes fatigue in adults and effects motor and mental development in infants, children and adolescents. It is more common in developing countries, but appears in the United States among infants and women of childbearing age. To prevent iron deficiency, people need iron-rich foods, such as:
- Beans and lentils
- Meat, eggs and seafood
- Dark green vegetables including spinach, broccoli, kale, collards and chard
- Iron-fortified breads and cereals
- Fruits such as strawberries, watermelon, raisins, dates and figs
For vigorous vegans and vegetarians, women of childbearing age
A total iron binding capacity (TIBC) is a blood test that shows if there is too much or too little iron in the blood. Iron is carried in the blood attached to a serum protein called transferrin. “Total” iron-binding capacity is the maximum amount of iron that can be bound to transferrin. Normal total iron-binding capacity is about 300 micrograms per 100 milliliters.
Who’s at risk for iron deficiency?
- Iron deficiency may occur during rapid periods of growth in developing fetuses, infants and adolescents.
- Iron deficiency is rare in American men—typically occurring because of blood loss from the digestive tract or alcohol abuse.
- In women, iron deficiency occurs more commonly as a result of heavy menstruation or during pregnancy.
- It is also observed in men and women who are vegans and strict vegetarians—especially those who engage regularly in strenuous exercise.
- Certain foods can interfere with iron absorption including dairy products, coffee, tea, chocolate eggs and fiber.
- Acid reflux meds may inhibit iron uptake.
- Diseases such as celiac disease, alcoholism or bleeding ulcers can lead to iron deficits.
If you’re iron deficient
If a routine total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) blood test indicates low iron, consult your doctor before taking an iron supplement. Certain health conditions resulting from dietary intake, medications or chronic health conditions can prevent proper iron absorption—and should be addressed.