Iron deficiency and needs
Iron deficiency effects more than 2 billion people worldwide, and around 1 in 8 Australians.
About 75% of our intake is directed to the bone marrow where it is needed for the production of red blood cells, red blood cells account or over 80% of the 30 trillion or so cells in the adult human body and transport oxygen essential for life. Red blood cells are produced at around 200 billion per day and so need a steady supply of iron maintain proper production, around 20-25mg/day.
Getting the right amount is crucial, not enough impacts red blood cell production but too much can cause digestive symptoms and distress, feed pathogenic bacteria, increase inflammation, oxidative stress and tissue damage in the body. So self-diagnosing and medicating may not be a wise decision, especially where there is a family history of hemochromatosis or conditions effecting the liver, always take the advice of a health professional.
Iron in the diet
Iron in the diet come in 3 forms, ferrous iron (Fe2+), Ferric Iron (Fe3+) and Haem Iron (ferric iron attached to a Haem protein). To absorbed into the body, dietary iron must be transported from the intestinal tract, into the absorptive cells, then transported through the cell wall to be bound to transferrin proteins and carried through the blood stream to be utilised in the body.
It goes a bit like this, dietary iron is generally Fe3+ but to be able to pass into the cell it must be converted to Fe2+ by an enzyme on the surface of the cell which is activated by vitamin C, once inside the cell it is quickly converted back to Fe3+ to be stored, when the body needs it in the blood stream the store Fe3+ needs to be converted to Fe2+ to pass through the cell wall into the blood stream where it is quickly converted back to Fe3+to be carried away by special protein transporters in the blood. Complicated hey, and thats why it is difficult to maintain good levels of iron because of the multistep process.
Iron from meats are readily absorbed because travel into the cell via protein channels attached to the haem, skipping the initial step and enter the cell ready to be stored. Iron from plants however need to be converted before they can be absorbed. The problem of iron deficiency can also be made worse when the diet contains foods high in chemicals that bind to iron and inhibit absorption these foods are predominantly plant foods and the chemicals are phytates, oxalates, polyphenols and tannins.
How is iron regulated
Much of our daily iron is harvested and recycled from worn out red blood cells in the spleen, but there is daily loss due to the sloughing off of intestinal absorptive cells and loss due bleeding from injury or for women during their reproductive years. Our bodies have built in mechanisms to prevent iron overload and tissue damage from the oxidative stress caused by too much unbound iron, two of these mechanisms are important when considering supplementation for restore low levels of iron, firstly a hormone produced by the liver, Hepcidin, the second is a protective mechanism of the absorptive cells, the mucosal block. Hepcidin inhibits the absorption of iron by binding to the receptor proteins on the cell and taking the pace of the iron, in times of increased need hepcidin production is suppressed allowing for greater absorption, and in times of high iron saturation hepcidin production is increased to prevent overload.
The second mechanism, the mucosal block, is this, when there is an oversupply of available iron the receptor proteins bind to the iron and withdraw into the cell safely bound to the iron thereby reducing the available receptors on the surface of the cell. In doing this it prevents toxic unbound iron entering the body until the iron is safely stored in the cells.
Getting the best result if I need to supplement
Is the form important? Yes!
If you need to supplement always take the best advice from a health professional, it’s important to consider the quality of form of the product you chosen, common forms are Iron Citrate, Iron Sulphate and Iron Bisglycinate
Is dosage and timing important?
The hormone hepcidin has a diurnal rhythm and is found to be lowest in the morning so supplementing in the morning ensures better absorption. An influx of iron into the cell provokes the (mucosal block) mechanism preventing/reducing the effectiveness any subsequent dose on the same day and also induces and increase in the production of Hepcidin. Supplementing once a day or even every second day in the morning has been found to be most effective in raising the available iron within the body, even at lower doses.
What else should I consider in increasing iron absorption?
Whether from dietary sources or supplementation, Vitamin C plays a role in converting ferric iron to ferrous iron, making it available for absorption. Combining vitamin C rich foods with iron rich foods improve absorption.
Copper assist in iron absorption; liver, shellfish, crab, nuts, sunflower seeds, lentils, soy products, dark chocolate, broccoli, mushrooms are all good dietary sources of copper
Vitamin A assists in the transport and storage of iron; Liver, Fish, Fish oils, butter, kidneys Fortified milk, Margarine, low fat and reduced fat milk and apricots are good sources of vitamin A and Dark green and yellow orange vegetables and fruits. Carrots, spinach, sweet potato, broccoli, mangoes, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots and good sources of carotenoids which are converted to Vitamin A as needed and are also a good pretention against increase in oxidative stress from higher intake of iron.
Vitamin B2 increases absorption and reducing loss due to the sloughing off of intestinal cells; liver, mushrooms, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, broccoli, asparagus, milk and cottage cheese, yeast products (vegemite), almonds, wheat germ and mushroom are all good sources.
What about if want to increase my levels with my diet alone, can I do that?
Diet is such an important factor in improving and maintaining good levels of iron, and any nutrient for that matter and having a diet and lifestyle that supports this is the ultimate goal. Having insufficient iron in your diet may not be the root cause of low levels and a Clinical Nutritionist job is to access all the factors involved and build a plan with you, for you, to help you address all the factors effecting your iron status ongoing.
Make an appointment today, it will be well worth the time.
Microbiome Enhancing Foods - Prebiotics
The human microbiome consists of seperate communities of microorganisms that reside in your gut, your skin, your respiratory system and your urinary/reproductive system, and now there is growing evidence that there is also a microbiome that lives in and interacts with your brain and nervous system. These separate microbiomes communicate and interact to maintain physical and mental/emotional Health.
The primary or central microbiome resides in your gastrointestinal tract, which includes the stomach, the mouth, oesophagus, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, and colon. This microbiome exerts influence over your health and wellbeing by producing essential nutrients from non-digestible fibres that fuel the digestive system, protect us from various cancers, provide us with neuroprotective chemicals and neurotransmitters, interacts with your immune system, your hormonal system and works with your body’s metabolic balance.
The diversity of your microbiome has a health enhancing effect.
Consider this, our genes respond to the environment and produce proteins that allow us to maintain health. Within our microbiome there are around 40 000 species, all with separate DNA and variations between species of up to 50%. This means that the genetic information and adaptability to the environment far outweighs that of our genes alone, and so, the microbiome exerts a far greater influence over our health than our own genes alone.
Feeding our gut microbiome to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria is critical to our health.
As a rule, the simplest way to feed the microbiome is to consume the colours of the rainbow in a wide variety of natural plant foods each day.
If you are currently having health concerns you may need to consult your practitioner and be guided on protocols to restore balance to your microbiome before increasing these foods.
Here is a general guide of foods you could include in your diet, unless otherwise advised by your qualified Healthcare Practitioner.
Fibre (In general)
FOS (Fructooligosaccharides) & Inulin
Polyphenols (plant pigments and flavonoids)
Other prebiotic foods
Nutrition for the prevention of Cognitive decline
We well understand the importance of feeding a young brain for optimal development, and it’s a natural instinct to want to give your child the greatest opportunity for growth and development that you can. But what about yourself? What about maintaining and optimising your own brain function and making sure you stay bright and vital throughout your while life. Some research using MRI scans have shown that grey matter of the brain continues to grow well into adulthood showing growth into the mid to late 40’s and you make new neurons throughout your life in response to mental activity. Your brain is not only found within your skull, researchers are finding white and grey matter in tissue throughout the body and there is growing evidence of the influence of the digestive tract, bacteria and hormones on brain health and cognitive function. So, maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, social networks and reducing exposure to toxins, helps ensure your whole system supports a healthy brain and cognitive functioning.
When we think about cognitive decline we automatically think of the brain, so what is it made of and how do we support it.
Firstly, the mass of your brain is around 75% water so it’s important for your brain, and overall health to ensure you are well hydrated. In a relatively brief period of time, failure to consume sufficient waterwill lead to deteriorating cognitive and neurologic function.
There are more than 160 000 km of blood vessels and it uses around 20% or your total oxygen supply, making it the organ with the highest energy needs. There are strong links between optimal blood flow and energy metabolism with optimal neural function.
The tissue of your brain is made of around 60% fat, making it the fattiest organ of your body, being made mainly of fatty tissue it is critical to protect it against situations that break down and destroy fats. One of the main sources of damage to fatty tissue is what we call oxidative stress and so the brain is particularly vulnerable. Oxidative stress occurs naturally in our body as a consequence of many functions, most notably in the production of cellular energy and we naturally combat this by producing antioxidants to neutralise these molecules and we also enhance this defence by consuming antioxidant rich foods in our diet.
Dietary antioxidants are found in richly coloured fresh fruits and vegetables, some vitamins also have strong antioxidant properties, Vitamin E is particularly effective because it is fat soluble and supports high fat tissue like brain cells, some good sources of vitamin E are plant oils, wheat germ, avocado, almonds, peanuts and sunflower seeds, and tahini. In addition, supplementing with Vitamin C enhances the protective effect of vitamin E.
Other sources of antioxidants are in fresh brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, the rich reds, orange and yellow pigments (carotenoids) that give these fruits and vegetables their colour have antioxidant properties and an added benefit from blue coloured pigments (anthocyanins) in blue and purple vegetables and berries protect the thousands of kilometres of small blood vessels and capillaries of the brain, strengthening them from breaking down and making sure oxygen gets where it is needed.
Alpha-lipoic Acid(ALA) found in good amounts in spinach, broccoli and organ meats (kidney, heart and liver) helps as an antioxidant. It also regenerates other antioxidants and acts as an essential ingredient in the production of energy in the brain.
Some minerals also play a role in the antioxidant defence system and support and spare other antioxidants from depletion.
Selenium, found in brazil nuts, seafood, organ and muscle meats, cereals and grains broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage and celery support the body’s key antioxidant enzymes. Copper and Zinc are other important minerals needed for body’s most potent free radical scavenger, superoxide dismutase(SOD), lean dark meats and fish are a good source of zinc and liver, shellfish, crab, nuts, sunflower seeds, lentils, soy products, dark chocolate, broccoli and mushrooms are a good source of copper.
Heavy metals, lead, mercury, cadmium and aluminium are all toxic to brain cells and avoiding exposure is critical to brain health.
Environmental exposure to Lead is the main source of lead toxicity with lead-based paint being the main culprit, but exposure to lead can also be from rustproofing and soldering. Older lead pipes and soldered joints also contaminate water in a household. Burning coloured paper or painted wood can release lead into the air and lead is present in tobacco, cigarette smoke and ash. Occupational exposure to lead should be taken seriously, follow all safety guidelines provided, and use good quality protective masks and clothing when doing home renovations. Consuming foods high in iron, calcium and vitamin C can help reduce the amount of ingested lead absorbed into the body.
Mercury has the capacity to cross the blood brain barrier in the form of methylmercury, accumulating in the central nervous system it is responsible for a raft of neurological disturbances. Two of the main sources of methylmercury are in amalgam tooth fillings and large, long living warm water fish including Shark (flake), large tuna, swordfish, broadbill and marlin. Opting for fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines reduces your risk of mercury toxicity and also provides the brain with beneficial fats and proteins. Grinding your teeth with amalgam fillings and dental drilling of those fillings also release methyl mercury vapours.
Exposure to Cadmium also has neurotoxic effects and causes oxidative damage within the brain. Cadmium also increases the permeability of the blood brain barrier weakening the brains natural defence against other toxins including other heavy metals. Exposure can be from industrial processing, fertilisers, cigarette smoke, incineration of waste containing plastics and cadmium batteries. Our body lacks an effective pathway to eliminate cadmium and it is reabsorbed by the kidney, so best avoiding exposure.
Aluminium toxicity has been linked to impaired mental ability and forgetfulness, the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia in the elderly and delayed mental development on the young. Aluminium cooking pots, Teflon, buffered analgesics and antacids are the main sources of ingested aluminium but may also be contained in intravenous injections. Occupations that involve exposure to aluminium welding fumes and the production/use of aluminium powders, aluminium welding, as well as plasma cutting, grinding, polishing and thermal spraying of aluminiumall involve increased risk of toxicity, inhaled particles are deposited in the lungs and then released to blood brain and bones.
Inflammation is the natural enemy of the brain, so reducing inflammatory foods, ie, saturated fats and trans fats, highly processed foods and foods high in simple carbohydrates and sugars. Healthy fats for the brain have an anti-inflammatory effect, help to build the structure of brain cell walls and promote good communication between brain cells, the best sources are Omega 3 fats are found in cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines, other sources include nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts) and some plant oils such as flaxseed and extra virgin olive oil.
Conversely fats that promote inflammation also promote cognitive decline so reducing the amount of saturated fats found in fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb, processed meats like salami, sausages and the skin on chicken and dairy cream butter and cheese. Oils that are modified to be like fats, AKA trans fats found in manufactured foods and margarines are also inflammatory and detrimental to the health of your brain.
Having adequate protein from both animal and vegetable sources are also important for the brain. The production of neurotransmitters is dependent on adequate clean protein.
Foods that are high in fibre have a dual effect, firstly they feed and promote the gut bacteria play a crucial role in our neurotransmitter balance and secondly, they slow the release of sugars into the blood stream, reducing insulin spikes and maintaining blood sugar balance. Both actions are important for brain function. Diets rich in foods that spike your blood sugar, white breads, pastas, sweet drinks and cereals have been associated with poorer cognitive test results. A diet rich in fibre also benefits by generally being higher in B group vitamins which are protective to the brain and a fibre rich diet is known to be protective against high blood pressure, a major factor in cognitive decline and also in the balance of cholesterol in the blood stream protecting against the risk of stroke.
Limit Coffee to one cup per day, coffee has been shown to increase blood levels of homocysteine and promote the excretion of protective B vitamins. Homocysteine occurs naturally as part of a metabolic process called methylation, when this process is impaired or influenced by diet levels of homocysteine increase in the blood and it is known to be a risk factor for both the development of Alzheimer’s and heart disease, its effect on the brain may be due to the depleting effect homocysteine has on protective vitamins B6, B12 and Folate.
A good alternative is green tea, it is a good source of protective antioxidants and also a contains good levels of an amino acid L-theanine. This amino acid benefits the brain by inducing calming alpha waves, increasing feel good and calming neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and GABA.
An even better alternative to coffee is good old clean water. Adding some lemon juice to the water increases your antioxidant intake and helps to improve digestion and supports the function of the liver by stimulating bile, which in term helps support a healthy microbiome for neurotransmitter production and healthy colon function for clearing toxins that can affect he brain.
Heavy use of alcohol is known to be toxic for the brain and is a major risk factor for cognitive decline.
Your brain uses a lot of energy and needs to have a steady supply of fuel and oxygen. Maintaining a steady blood sugar balance, adequate iron to deliver the oxygen to the brain cells. Once received in the brain cells the fuel and oxygen need to be then converted into a form that the body can use, that comes down to the mitochondria of the brain cell. The highest concentration of mitochondria is in the heart, brain and muscles and this concentration declines as we age, so supporting the function of mitochondria is critical for cognitive function especially as we get older. Ubiquinol or CoQ10 is used by the mitochondria to produce energy and acts as an antioxidant in the cellular environment. It is produced from an amino acid tyrosine using eight vitamins, six are B group vitamins emphasising their importance, and also both vitamin C and Vitamin E play crucial roles in the production of ubiquinol and the protection of blood vessels carrying oxygen to the brain cells using the energy.
Avoiding artificial food additives and flavour enhancers is a good idea when considering the health of your brain. Glutamates used in flavour enhancers like MSG can literally irritate the nerve ending in the brain and effect excitatory neuro transmitter and can lead to irritability and anxiety etc. Some classes of food colour similarly effect the brain in an adverse way and artificial sweeteners can also be neurodegenerative, for example aspartame can separate to phenylalanine and aspartate in the brain effecting neurons and the balance of serotonin and dopamine with people suffering mood disorders most at risk. People with mood disorders may be at higher risk of cognitive decline so avoiding these additives will help.
Hormones throughout your life interact with the brain, changes in hormones associated with aging effect the function of the brain, especially with the onset of menopause for women. The parts of your brain that are responsible for learning and memory have receptors for oestrogen and progesterone and these hormones have been found to be protective for the brain, a decline of these hormones during menopause has been associated with forgetfulness and changes in mood. Suboptimal clearing of hormones can also increase the risk of cognitive decline by precipitating disordered mood. Other hormones produced through stress, adrenaline and cortisol also impact on brain function and increase the risk of cognitive decline as we age. Practicing mindfulness and learning to relax are important here. The good news is that the nutrients that we have highlighted here also support the balance and clearance of hormones and increase tolerance to stress.
Some lifestyle activities also help with cognitive function. Exercise is known to cause nerve cells to multiply and strengthen connections. Sleeping well allows the brain to restore energy and clear toxins via the glymphatic system, a chronic lack of sleep can cause the brain to stop producing new cells. Getting sunlight optimises vitamin D levels and recent research has found that vitamin D improves the brains detoxification processes and sunlight helps in the production of serotonin to bring that sense of wellbeing. Your brain is like a muscle and responds to stimulation, learning new tasks, languages, skills or simply solving puzzles stimulates growth and protection of brain cells.
This information that I’ve presented her is by no means comprehensive and as we are all individuals with individual circumstances it’s advisable to consult with your health professional if you have any concerns about your current cognitive status.
If you wish to test your memory or check your cognitive function a free online test and recourses are available at
Food for the Brain Cognitive Function Test.
Want to know more, have any questions?
So, should I be still taking fish oil? With recent news stories questioning the health benefit you may be asking yourself is it worth taking fish oil. Let’s consider some facts.
Recent media attention has been focused fish oils and it effectiveness in treating heart disease but the benefits of fish oils are not limited to heart health. A search for recent studies reported in PubMed relating to the possible health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids have returned in excess of 70 thousand items, the recent study questioning the effectiveness of fish oils and omega 3 fatty acids selected only 20 studies conducted after 1998 and some researchers believe that the research items selected may have not taken into consideration the adoption of statin drugs as the primary treatment for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and that these drugs may minimise the positive effects of Omega 3’s.
So, why do I need to eat fish or take fish oils anyway? Our bodies need certain fats to manufacture some hormone like substances and chemicals to maintain our health and wellbeing, and Fish oils contain the building blocks of these chemicals, long chain fatty acids that are considered essential, that means that our bodies do not produce them and it is essential that we consume them in our diet.
Two components of fish oils conferring health benefits are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These two components are converted into chemicals that effect blood chemistry, muscle contraction, immune function and inflammation. EPA asserts influence as an anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant and DHA is considered a major component of fats in the cell membranes of the retina, brain, male reproductive tissue and heart muscle.
Omega 3 fish oils have few side effects and are a low risk option of disease prevention as opposed to many drugs currently used and primary treatment and prevent of disease. Updated studies on Omega 3 fish oils and heart health have concluded that they have a positive effect on the prevention and treatment of heart disease have been found to benefit heart health, and other studies have confirmed its positive effect but found that it is also dose related and having a mix of dietary fish and fish oils is important because there is a difference in the ratios of EPA and DHA in fish and fish oils, in population groups with higher fish intake there is increased amounts of DHA incorporated into the heart muscle and increased heart health benefits are associated, so getting the right amount and type is important.
The health benefits go beyond heart health and include complementing treatments for Rheumatoid arthritis and reducing the need for medications that are harsh on the stomach.
Dietary omega 3 fatty acids and particular DHA plays an active role in the cell membranes of our neurons effecting fluidity and growth of neurons and influencing the production and use of neurotransmitters in the brain and so, has a positive effect on both the cognitive development of infants and children and also a positive effect in the treatment and prevention of depression in adults. Current studies are examining the effects and possible uses as part of treatments for Alziemers, Brain trauma and Autism spectrum disorders. Examination is also being made on the influences of levels on Omega 3 intake for anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, some cancers including breast, prostate and colorectal cancer and many disorders effecting mood and outlook
There have been positive associations with Fish oils and other dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids and reduced incidences of the development of Type 2 Diabetes in people at risk and the anti-inflammatory effect of has been effective in alleviating atopic dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis and the consumption fish and fish oils shows promise in assisting balancing fat ratio of omega 6 fatty acids and Omega 3 fatty acids and resulting in a reduction of pro-inflammatory conditions.
So now we know that fish oils are beneficial to my health what should I consider before I start taking supplements? Well, fish oils are considered generally safe but you should consider that the main effect is as an anti-inflammatory and as an anticoagulant. So, if you are currently taking anti-inflammatory medications you may need to consult your doctor and review the dosage or type of medication you are taking. You will also need to consult your doctor if you are taking anticoagulant medication or have a bleeding disorder and please cease fish oils supplementation 2 weeks prior to any surgery and consult with your surgeon.
Also consider the best source, the most concentrated dietary source of EPA and DHA is deep sea oily Fish and there have been some concerns about the possible contamination with Methyl mercury, so choose reputable supplement companies who have pure sources of cold water fish. When consuming fish avoid eating fish associated with higher levels of mercury such as marlin, swordfish, southern bluefish tuna, barramundi, ling, orange roughy, shark and rays and consider fish associated with lower levels of mercury including mackerel, herring, sardines, Atlantic salmon and canned salmon and tuna in oil.