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Iron plays a key role in oxygen transport and healthy blood. Insufficient iron puts you at risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia, but just eating iron-rich foods such as meat, fish and beans may not be enough to supply your iron needs. Some conditions, medications and habits deplete your iron reserves, increasing your need for this essential mineral.
Although getting enough exercise keeps you healthy, strenuous exercise and rigorous training regimens can deplete your body's iron content. Heavy training sessions cause a higher rate of cellular turnover for your red blood cells, and that means a greater need for iron. Athletes in training may take low doses of iron supplements, but before doing so, see your doctor. You may find that you can meet your increased iron needs during training by eating more foods rich in readily available heme iron -- those derived from animals -- or preparing meals in cast iron cookware.
Pregnancy and Childbirth
When you're pregnant, some of your nutritional intake goes to your baby, and that includes iron. Women need about 50 percent more iron while pregnant than they otherwise do. Extra iron also helps protect you against anemia due to blood loss during childbirth. Especially if you're breast-feeding, it's vital to have sufficient iron immediately after pregnancy. See your doctor and ask about ways to increase your iron intake, including prenatal iron supplements.
If you've been in an accident or have recently donated blood, your body must work to replenish the red blood cells you've lost. Iron is a crucial building block for hemoglobin, the protein that allows red blood cells to function as your body's oxygen transport system. Without enough iron, your body lacks a key building block for making more blood cells. Menstruation can also deplete the iron in your body, which is why women of childbearing age typically need more dietary iron than men.
While natural body processes deplete iron, absorption difficulties may prevent your body from restocking its iron supply. Antacids high in calcium can reduce the amount of iron available for absorption. Digestive bypass surgery limits the surface area through which iron could otherwise be absorbed. Celiac disease and Crohn's disease may also interfere with iron absorption.