Iron – the very earthy element
Iron is the fourth most abundant element of Earth’s crust and one of the most studied micronutrients in nutrition. Iron is essential component of hundreds of enzymes and proteins supporting essential biological functions, such as oxygen transport, energy production, DNA synthesis and cell growth and replication.
Iron is an essential nutrient to your child’s development and growth, but some children do not have enough. Find out what causes iron deficiency in children, how to recognize it and how to prevent it.
Why is iron so important for children?
Iron deficiency can affect the children’s physical and mental development.
Iron helps move oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and helps muscles store and use oxygen. If your child’s diet lacks iron, he or she might develop iron deficiency.
Iron deficiency in children is a common problem. It can occur at many levels, from a mild deficiency all the way to iron deficiency anaemia — a condition in which blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells. Untreated iron deficiency can affect a child’s growth and development.
Babies and Children – who’s at risk of iron deficiency?
Babies and children including adolescents at highest risk of iron deficiency include:
• Babies who are born prematurely or have a low birth weight
• Babies who drink formula that isn’t fortified with iron
• Children who have certain health conditions, such as chronic infections or restricted diets
• Children who have been exposed to heavy metals such as lead
• Children who don’t eat enough iron-rich foods
• Children who are overweight or obese
• Adolescent girls also are at higher risk of iron deficiency because their bodies lose iron during menstruation.
Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in children
Most signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in children don’t appear until iron deficiency anaemia occurs.
Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia might include:
• Pale skin
• Cold hands and feet
• Poor appetite
• Slow movement
• Slow growth and development
• Lack of weight gain
• Frequent infections
• Abnormally rapid breathing
• Behavioural problems
• Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, paint or starch
How is iron deficiency diagnosed?
Iron deficiency anaemia is usually diagnosed using blood test. The test will count the number of each type of of blood cell present in the ample (full blood count) and then check how much haemoglobin is contained in the red blood cells.
How can we improve the iron status in children?
Iron is better absorbed from natural sources such as animals or plants.
Animal sources: meat, organ meat, fish, eggs.
Plant sources: beetroot, green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, sprouts, asparagus and broccoli. Legumes including beans, peas and lentils. Nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and flaxseeds.
Fruits high in iron such as apricots, raisins, bilberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, elderberry, prunes and pomegranate.
Iron absorption is increased by the presence of natural vitamin C and flavonoids. Just a few drops of lemon can increase iron absorption from plant sources.
Some of the iron supplements containing ferrous sulphate may cause constipation in some children.
Iron deficiency in children can be prevented. To keep your child’s growth and development on track, offer iron-rich foods at meals and snacks and talk to your child’s doctor about the need for screenings and iron supplements.
Consultant Nutritional Therapist