It’s important to respect blood’s most precious metal — iron, writes Brad Pomp.
Over the past 15 years I have had the opportunity to work with some of the country’s leading elite athletes, especially endurance athletes who elevate their training heart rates to more than 150 beats per minute for 30 hours a week. You know the ones, the specimens with sunken eyes, shallow cheeks, miserable shoulders and who always looking exhausted. These people are usually the driven competitive ones (Type A personality) and they appreciate the discipline required to succeed in their given domain.
In recent years I have also had the opportunity to work with a similar personality type; men who push themselves just as hard as the athlete has — the executive in the manic business world. This type of man pushes himself hard — much like an elite athlete does — and he is always striving to WIN. Long hours, long stretches of high concentration and lots of work-related socialising. This all leads to the same result as in the athlete—worn out!
So what’s this all about? Well, as the two lifestyles yield similar results, let’s discuss the state of their blood, highlighting areas of concern that may contribute to continual tiredness, lack of energy, low-quality sleep, mood swings, poor recovery from days of high stress and a depressed immune system that will make you more susceptible to seasonal colds and flu.
COMPONENTS OF INTEREST IN YOUR BLOOD
Red blood cells carry oxygen to working muscles and alternatively transport carbon dioxide back to the lungs. Hematocrit refers to the volume of red blood cells in the blood. A person with a hematocrit reading of 50 has 25 per cent more red blood cells than a reading of 40. This results in about a 25 per cent improvement in aerobic function. If this level drops, lethargy is a common result. Levels in men should be between 35 and 40.
Haemoglobin makes up about 30 per cent of each red cell.
Ferritin locates iron and transports it to muscle cells. Measuring serum ferritin can provide an estimate on total iron stores. Men should present values of around 110.
It has a messy history, blood. The most common use for the red stuff for most of human history was to let it spill on the dusty ground. In 2500 BC, Egyptian medicos would bleed patients from the neck and the foot. Bloodletting was for 3,000-odd years a medical procedure. Hippocrates (he of the oath) posited in 400BC that blood was one of the four elements of life — phlegm, black bile and yellow bile the others. In 1553, Spaniard Michael Servetus was that blood pumped through the lungs rather than through the ventricles of the heart. The first human blood transfusion was performed on December 22, 1883. The patient died.
Transferrin saturation is another importer protein that transports iron to cells. Men should have about 30 per cent.
Total iron binding capacity is the indication of binding and carrying iron to the cells. If your result is low, then your binding capacity is high. Men should be about 250.
Serum iron is the total iron in the serum. A man’s measurement should be about 110.
ARE YOUR IRON LEVELS HIGH ENOUGH?
It would be beneficial for men to have their iron status checked annually. Women are required to have their blood analysed frequently, so why not men?
If a report indicates a shortage in available iron, measures can be taken to rectify the problem and consequently improve their collective health status.
The mineral iron has many functions in the body. Iron from the diet is an essential part of haemoglobin — the substance that carries oxygen in the blood. If the body’s store of iron is low and there is too little iron in the diet to form new red blood cells, the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia will start to develop. Iron deficiency anaemia can make people feel tired, irritable and less able to concentrate.
WHY YOUR IRON LEVELS AREN’T HIGH ENOUGH
The problem could be that your diet lacks a sufficient iron source. Iron assists in metabolism (the breakdown of food), therefore an insufficient supply might lead to an increase in weight or a rapid and unhealthy decline in weight (muscle breakdown). Or your diet could be lacking in vitamin C, which greatly assists the absorption of iron.
Stress could also be a culprit. Stress requires energy — lots of it — and available energy is dependent on iron. So high stress levels result in high use of iron, which often leaves the tank low.
Over-exercising can be another factor in play. When we exercise (or live, for that matter), we use oxygen. The greater the exercise, the greater the amount of oxygen required. The more oxygen required, the more iron required. Get it?
Basically, if your iron reserves are low, you are susceptible to the health-related issues mentioned earlier.
HOW TO BOOST YOUR TANK
Eat food that is rich in iron, such as beef, eggs, fish, chicken, leafy greens, legumes, diary products and brewers’ yeast. Beware vegans!
Combine your iron-rich foods with a good source of vitamin C. This will greatly assist absorption. Most fruits and/or their juices (oranges, apples, kiwifruit, berries) and vegetables (broccoli, bok choy).
Also, remember to relax. Book some time to do nothing. Take a salt bath, get a massage, go for a casual walk or have a sleep. Stress is like putting your foot flat to the floor — it chews up the juice!
You might also consider a copper supplement as copper plays a direct role in iron transport. Also, an iron supplement might be an idea. Check with your doctor first, however. And remember nuts, which are loaded with minerals and vitamins and enhance your blood.