Iron is involved in a wide variety of metabolic processes, including oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, and energy production.1 In the human body, it is needed for the proper functioning of many systems, including the heart, muscles and red blood cells. It also plays a vital role in the immune system,2 the development of the brain 3,4 and cognitive function.5
Iron deficiency is a health-related condition where there is not enough iron available to meet the body’s needs.6 It can occur with or without iron deficiency anaemia.6
Iron deficiency is very common; present in one-third of people globally.7 Specifically, it is one of the few nutritional deficiencies still widespread in developed countries.7 It is most prevalent in premenopausal and pregnant women and children under the age of five.8 In Europe, for example, iron deficiency affects up to 33% of pre-menopausal women, up to 77% of pregnant women and up to 48% of children.8 Iron deficiency is also frequently associated with chronic inflammatory diseases.9
The consequences of iron deficiency differ from person to person, but it can be linked to an overall decline in general health and well-being, as well as an increase in fatigue.10 Even in the absence of anaemia, iron deficiency can be debilitating, and exacerbate any underlying chronic disease, leading to increased morbidity and mortality.6 In children, iron deficiency can significantly impair cognitive and motor development.11
Despite the serious consequences and high prevalence of iron deficiency,12 it is still an under-recognised condition. As a result, many people are unaware that their health and well-being are being compromised.13,14 Even among those people who are aware of iron deficiency, some cannot recognise its symptoms.15 It is because of this lack of awareness that we are focused on education around the symptoms and impact of iron deficiency and recommending that people speak to a healthcare professional if they recognise any of the symptoms.
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