Without enough iron or vitamin B12 in your diet, a normal day can leave you feeling like you ran a marathon. Iron is a mineral and B12 is a vitamin, but the two are often linked because they are found in similar foods. Without consuming enough of these foods or being unable to adequately absorb them, you may develop low levels of both nutrients. Low levels of either B12 or iron may lead to different types of anemia in which your body no longer makes healthy red blood cells.
B12 is an essential vitamin naturally occurring in some foods, added to others or available as a supplement. It is absorbed by water in your body, so you need to consume adequate amounts of vitamin B12 on a daily basis. This vitamin is used to form red blood cells, for healthy brain function and for DNA synthesis. The recommended dietary allowance for adults is 2.4 micrograms. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products, such as poultry, fish, red meat, eggs and milk products.
You are susceptible to B12 deficiency with inadequate intake or the inability to absorb the vitamin. You won't absorb B12 well if you have decreased stomach acid caused by pernicious anemia or chronic inflammation of the stomach lining. Celiac disease, surgeries that remove part of your stomach or small intestine and long-term use of antacids may also decrease your ability to absorb B12. If left untreated, a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause megaloblastic anemia, which is characterized by larger than normal red blood cells. Unhealthy red blood cells can't deliver adequate amounts of oxygen throughout your body. Symptoms of a B12 deficiency include fatigue, diarrhea, pale skin, loss of appetite and shortness of breath. If left untreated, it can cause nerve problems characterized by tingling and numbness in your hands and feet, depression and confusion.
Iron is vital to maintaining your health. It transports oxygen in your body and is involved in cell growth. Iron is stored in the body as hemoglobin and myoglobin, which deliver oxygen to your tissues and muscles, respectively. You find iron in animal foods, such as red meat, fish and poultry, and plant foods, such as lentils, spinach and beans. The daily recommended dietary allowance for iron is 8 milligrams for men and 18 milligrams for women. Pregnant women need higher amounts, but too much iron has toxic effects.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, iron deficiency is the leading nutrient deficiency in the United States. The first stage of iron deficiency occurs when your stored iron levels drop. In the second stage, you have an impaired ability to form red blood cells. Eventually you’ll develop iron-deficiency anemia characterized by smaller blood cells with less hemoglobin in them. Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, rapid heartbeat, decreased performance and difficulty maintaining your body temperature. You are at risk for an iron deficiency if you don’t eat enough iron-rich foods, so vegetarians need to be extra careful. Certain diseases, such as celiac disease, put you at risk as does excessive blood loss, gastric bypass surgery and excessive exercise. Be sure to avoid calcium-rich foods, coffee and tea when eating iron as they can inhibit iron absorption.
Michelle Fisk began writing professionally in 2011. She has been published in the "Physician and Sports Medicine Journal." Her expertise lies in the fields of exercise physiology and nutrition. Fisk holds a Master of Science in kinesiology from Marywood University.