The Iron Age

We always hear about the importance of iron and supplementation for anaemia, but can there be such a thing as too much iron intake? Cathrine Versfeld explores some expert medical opinions.

Although knowledge of the effects of anaemia can be traced as far back as 4 000 years ago, for many hundreds of years the symptoms were blamed on celestial bodies like the moon, or witchcraft. Like many conditions and illnesses, it was never fully understood until the invention of the microscope, when we could finally see what was going on in our own blood. In the 1820s, a French doctor by the name of P. Blaud de Beaucaire first associated anaemia with a lack of iron in the diets of his patients. In 1831, he produced and prescribed the first iron supplement.

Anaemia Explained

Anaemia is the medical term used for a marked decrease in the amount of red blood cells (haemoglobin) in your blood. As red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen to all your organs, muscles, heart and brain, the effects of even mild anaemia over a long period can have lasting consequences. Although some cases can be sudden and obvious, like extreme blood loss due to trauma or surgery, other cases may be a slow onset that take several months or years to show symptoms.

“Iron is an essential mineral involved in the production of haemoglobin” explains Cape Town general practitioner, Dr Michelle Pentecost. In other words, production of haemoglobin in the blood stream can drop significantly when there is not enough access to iron. This inhibits transportation of oxygen throughout the body, which explains the fatigue that is related with the condition.

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