The mineral iron and vitamin B-12 are both involved in metabolism and the production of hormones and enzymes. Low levels of iron and vitamin B-12 in your body can result in a condition called anemia. Symptoms can range in intensity from mild to severe, but they can be treated with diet and supplements. Contact your doctor if you suspect you have low levels of iron and vitamin B-12.
Significance of Iron
Iron is an integral part of a protein called hemoglobin that helps transports oxygen from your lungs to your body tissues. It is also a vital part of the protein myoglobin that supplies oxygen to your muscles and plays a crucial role in metabolism. Your body needs iron to support normal growth and development and cell function. The mineral also contributes to the production of some hormones and connective tissues. The recommended dietary allowance of iron is 8 milligrams per day for men and 18 milligrams per day for women. If you're suspected to have a low iron level, your doctor will confirm the diagnosis with a hematocrit and hemoglobin test and/or a RBC indices.
Failure to consume the recommended amount of iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, a condition in which your body fails to produce a sufficient number of healthy blood cells. Consequently, your body begins employing the iron it has stored. Soon, the stored iron gets exhausted. After the stored iron is consumed, your body manufactures fewer red blood cells that contain less hemoglobin than normal. Iron-deficiency anemia can lead to chest pain, tiredness and shortness of breath. Severe iron-deficiency anemia can cause problems with growth and development in children, heart problems and infections. Women and children are at the highest risk of iron-deficiency anemia.
Significance of Vitamin B-12
Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B-12 helps your body turn the food you eat into fuel, which is used to generate energy. This water-soluble vitamin contributes to the production of genetic materials and helps maintain nerve cell health. Vitamin B-12 works with vitamin B-9 to help iron work properly in your body and to help manufacture red blood cells. For optimal health, you need 2.4 micrograms of this vitamin daily. Low B-12 levels are diagnosed after a blood test is done.
Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
Low levels of vitamin B-12 in your blood can lead to pernicious anemia, a decrease in red blood cells that happens when your body cannot absorb vitamin B-12 from the food you eat. This is due to a lack of intrinsic factor, a protein made in your stomach that is essential for the absorption of vitamin B-12. Symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency include diarrhea, nervousness, tingling sensation in the fingers and toes, shortness of breath, fatigue or numbness. A severe vitamin B-12 deficiency leads to nerve damage. You are at risk for vitamin B-12 deficiency if you are a vegetarian, have trouble absorbing the nutrient, have Crohn’s disease or are HIV-positive.
Dietary Changes and Supplements
You can correct your deficiencies with foods that contain both iron and vitamin B-12. These include poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs and organ meats. Plant foods such as nuts and seeds, legumes, dried beans and peas and green leafy vegetables are plentiful in iron. Supplements can also help address your problem. Vitamin B-12 supplements are available in softgels, lozenges, tablets, capsules and intranasal forms. However, supplements should be taken only under the guidance of a health care provider. Iron supplements can cause side effects such as heartburn, diarrhea, nausea and discomfort. Vitamin B-12 supplements are considered safe and nontoxic, but you should use them only after consulting your doctor, cautions University of Maryland Medical Center.