A major part of your life may have been focussed on the health and wellbeing of your children. You may have spent time making sure they are eating well, studying, playing, making friends – and generally worrying about them! But as they become independent, you have time to turn the focus back on you.
Iron is an essential nutrient for your body to function well. Although it is especially important for children during periods of growth,1 it is vital for you too. If your body is low in iron (known as iron deficiency) this can lead to a condition called iron deficiency anaemia, where the number of healthy red blood cells in your body is reduced.2 For more information on the role iron plays in your body see ‘Why is iron so important for your health’.
Iron in Midlife
‘50 is the new 40’. As general health has improved, perception of age has changed. Expectations of both work and life have improved and we anticipate being fit and well for much longer than our grandparents did. Along with healthcare, maintaining a good diet is a big part of keeping your body healthy.
Iron is involved in many processes in your body. Iron is needed to carry oxygen in your blood around your body to give you energy,3 and to help you concentrate.4 It also helps keep your immune system healthy, allowing you to fight off infections.5 If you don’t have enough iron these processes begin to be affected. Concentration and short-term memory are the most affected,6 which can lead to you being less productive at work and in your daily life.3
A lack of iron can also impact on your general health. If you have been iron deficient in the past 2 years you are more likely to experience severe exhaustion, lack of vitality and reduced mental and physical well-being.6 You can increase the amount of iron you have by adjusting your diet.
To learn more about the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency use our “Symptom Browser”. You can use this as the start of a conversation with your doctor.
People who have recently been iron deficient often experience severe tiredness.6 A symptom of iron deficiency is fatigue,4 a physical and mental exhaustion that doesn’t go away even if you rest, and that can leave you feeling cranky and listless day after day. To assess your level of tiredness you may want to use our Fatigue Survey. You can use the results of the Fatigue Survey to help explain to your doctor how fatigue is affecting your life.
Just as starting your periods was a time of great change for your body, so is stopping them! The hormone levels that were responsible for the release of an egg every month start to decrease, and your body lets you know by having hot flushes,7 disturbed sleep8 and changes in mood.7
As your periods stop your need for iron decreases, from 18 mg per day to 8 mg per day.9 If you have been taking an iron supplement to meet these needs, or to cope with Heavy Menstrual Bleeding, you will probably no longer need to do so. However, if, once your periods have stopped, you show some of the symptoms of iron deficiency, such as looking pale10 or feeling fatigued,4 it could be due to disease. Certain diseases, such as chronic heart failure11 or cancer,12 put you at a higher risk of iron deficiency. If you feel you may be suffering from iron deficiency, or any of the diseases associated with it, it is important that you speak to your doctor who will be able to recommend the best course of action and treatments.
Just as your kids have grown up in the blink of an eye, old age tends to sneak up on you too. Your body may not be moving as fast as it used to, but giving it the right nutrients will help you deal with the changes that age can bring.
Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition where you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry normal levels of oxygen around your body. It is common in older people and your risk increases with age.14 There are a number of different causes that occur in older people, such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease or gastrointestinal problems.14 However, you can also be affected if you don’t get enough iron in your diet. Iron deficiency is the second most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia in the elderly, occurring in 15-30% of anaemic elderly people.14 Other potential causes include vitamin B12 deficiency due to problems absorbing it properly.14
Symptoms include looking pale, feeling fatigued and breathlessness,14 although you may experience these symptoms due to other conditions that are common in older people,14 such as rheumatoid arthritis15 or lung disease.16 It is therefore important that you speak to your doctor if you are concerned that you may low in iron, as they will be able to find out what the underlying cause of your symptoms are.
Suffering from iron deficiency as you get older can impact on your strength and balance, but also on your mind.14 You can help your brain stay healthy as you get older by having a good diet earlier in life. If you stick to foods such as fruit and vegetables, whole-grains and fish, and avoid lots of cakes and cheese in your midlife you can help your brain continue to work properly later in life.17
Take care of yourself and enjoy this time for you.