Iron deficiency – what most Aussies don’t know

foods to fight iron deficiency

If you’re heading out to take on today’s Boxing Day sales in person, you have my admiration. It takes an iron-willed character to brave those mad throngs searching for a genuine bargain. Speaking of iron, if you find yourself feeling dizzy at any stage today, the competing throng might not be to blame. A month ago today, many Aussies found out that dizziness can actually be a sign of something else – an iron deficiency.

That was Iron Deficiency Day 2023. As unexciting as that may sound, the aim is an important one – to raise awareness of the symptoms of an iron shortage, which can have debilitating health outcomes.

One of those is iron deficiency anaemia. The body of an anaemia sufferer can no longer make the required number of healthy red blood cells. That can lead to more than just dizziness.

While most Australians aren’t across the finer points of this deficiency, many are unaware of even the common symptoms. Just how ignorant we are as a nation was revealed in a survey released ahead of Iron Deficiency Day 2023.

A knowledge deficiency about iron deficiency

The survey showed that the majority of Australians are unaware of common symptoms related to iron deficiency. These can include unusual food cravings, including chewing or eating ice. Ninety per cent of Aussies ­– me included – were unaware of that symptom. Australians aren’t very aware of other symptoms either.

About 87 per cent didn’t know a decrease in libido was a symptom, 81 per cent didn’t identify shortness of breath as another symptom and 57 per cent didn’t link dizziness with an iron deficiency. Only one in a hundred of those surveyed said they were aware of all the commonly identified symptoms.

The survey was commissioned by biotech company CSL, a now private company which originated as the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. CSL asked just over 1000 Australians about their understanding of iron deficiency.

One quite stark statistic to emerge from the survey was that nearly a quarter (24 per cent) either had a limited understanding – or had never even heard of – the condition. Those who did know (77 per cent), however, believed iron deficiency can either significantly or moderately impact quality of life.

Now that we know what many Aussies didn’t, what next?

Last month’s marking of Iron Deficiency Day is part of a broader campaign known as Take Iron Seriously. The campaign was prompted by a significant drop in the number of Australians tested for iron deficiency during the pandemic.

Haematologist Dr Lisa Clarke says it’s important for Australians to take iron deficiency seriously and listen to their body.

“Iron deficiency remains overlooked by patients and healthcare professionals as we don’t have good understanding of the symptoms,” she said. “Often iron deficiency is only addressed when anaemia has developed. By recognising the signs early and speaking to your GP, we can take an important step towards early diagnosis and treatment.”

Dr Clarke said studies showed that undiagnosed iron deficiency can impact work, study, leisure and completing everyday tasks. She also emphasised the importance of recognising women as being in a higher risk category.

 “It’s particularly important for women to be aware as they are at higher risk throughout their life due to menstrual blood loss and pregnancy. This means that menstruating women need over twice as much iron from their diet as men,” Dr Clarke said.

Notwithstanding CSL’s commercial interests in promoting iron supplements, the Take Iron Seriously campaign is a positive step. Unfortunately, identifying that you have an iron deficiency today probably won’t help you in time for the Boxing Day sales.

But it gives you time to ensure any Boxing Day fatigue suffered next year won’t be due to iron deficiency!

Were you aware of the common symptoms of iron deficiency? How long is it since you were tested for iron? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: A daily multivitamin may slow cognitive decline

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Andrew Gigacz

Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

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