A deficiency in iron is often associated and thought of as anaemia. Indeed a deficiency in iron can be one of the many causes of anaemia but iron is required for many functions in the body and problems such as dermatitis, neurological problems, general lethargy and tiredness and muscular weakness can all be caused by iron deficiency. Problems in the uterus such as fibroids or polyps may be associated with low iron levels.

As ever, the orthodox world suggests that there is a normal level within the blood and tests can be beneficial. It is always worth remembering that blood levels do not necessarily correspond to the levels in the tissues and that iron deficiency may be a problem despite normal levels. It is better to correlate blood analysis with the Humoral Pathological Laboratory Test or if this is not available, hair analysis.

Vegetarians and vegans are more likely to become iron deficient because of the lack of red meat in their diet. Vegetable sources include green-leafy vegetables, with particular interest to be paid to spinach and collard greens. Parsley is a good source but large amounts need to be eaten regularly, as do dried peaches, nuts, beans, asparagus, molasses and oatmeal. Heavy periods are a most common cause of iron deficiency and, paradoxically, anaemia can actually encourage heavy and painful periods.

A French study has shown that 15 per cent of children are iron deficient. This is due to poor iron intake through breast milk, formula milks and the type of foods given early in life. This may be the cause of tiredness and lethargy with persistent coughs and colds in children under the age of five.

Iron deficiency should be recognized by specific cellular iron levels and not simply by blood levels.

Replenishment should be made using iron in chelated combination with gluconate, citrate, fumerate or peptonate at a level of approximately 50mg per foot of height in divided doses with meals. Do not use ferrous sulphate. This should be carried on until symptoms alleviate and then the dose should be halved for two weeks.

Ensure an increase in the sources listed above.

Vitamin C at approximately 250mg per foot of height in divided doses with meals should be taken to enhance iron absorption.

Elemental iron should not cause constipation but if this occurs pay special attention to increasing the fibre in the diet or temporarily adding bran or psyllium husks throughout the day.

The plant extract of broom can be used under direction from a herbalist if iron levels are not rising or if constipation is not avoidable.

Persisting iron deficiency or iron deficiency without an obvious cause should be reviewed by a doctor because it may indicate unrecognized bleeding, malabsorption syndromes or even more serious conditions such as cancer.