Iron: Get back your energy

Woman smiling at Man. Skybright Iron Liquid Mineral.

Iron: Get back your energy

Iron is essential for energy production. It is found in the haemoglobin of our red blood cells to transport oxygen from our lungs to every cell in our body. It’s also present in myoglobin, a protein found in skeletal muscles and the heart. At the cellular level, iron is used to fuel enzymes and make energy.

Iron is responsible for more than 200 processes in the body, and key to thyroid function, hair growth, mood regulation, cognitive function, building and maintaining strong bones and optimal immune system maintenance.

Iron is found in the haemoglobin of our red blood cells.
Iron is found in the haemoglobin of our red blood cells to transport oxygen to every cell in our body.

There are any number of reasons we can feel tired or lacking energy. Not enough sleep, too much work, or several key nutrients missing from our diet. 

Low iron status is one of the most common deficiencies in the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), two billion people in both developing and industrialised countries are iron deficient. This is also true in New Zealand, especially for women. 

In the last New Zealand Nutritional Survey (all the way back in 2009!), 34% of girls aged 13-19 were deficient in iron, and that figure was 49% for Māori and Pasifika teenage girls. It is estimated 20-30% of women of child-bearing age in New Zealand are iron deficient.

When iron levels are low you are essentially depriving your cells of oxygen. Symptoms can include low energy, weakness, fatigue, pale skin, poor concentration, brain fog, and cold hands and feet. Low immunity to infection, and slow recovery from sickness is also common. In more severe cases, when haemoglobin levels are low and red blood cells become paler in colour, anaemia develops. This can cause a host of serious health issues including shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness.

“This iron liquid supplement has helped so much with energy levels, sleep and breathlessness. Can highly recommend.”

– Inger
Woman smiling after taking Skybright Iron Liquid Mineral.

While low iron or anaemia occurs more frequently than any other micronutrient deficiency, too much iron can be just as dangerous. The symptoms for excess iron are often the same, such as low energy or cognitive issues. 

Haemochromatosis, or iron overload, is a genetic condition that affects 1 in 200 New Zealanders, mostly of European descent. It’s thought to be the most common genetic disorder in the world. The iron slowly builds up in the body, especially your liver, heart, and pancreas. Eventually, these organs can be permanently damaged by the excess iron.

A balanced wholefood diet can play a big part in restoring and maintaining sufficient iron levels, and a well-nourished person is able to regulate their iron levels effectively, depending on what their body requires.

However, if you think you require more iron, it is recommended that you consult a health professional before commencing supplementation.

Iron absorption and bioavailability

While there is often enough iron in our diets, absorption of the mineral can be problem. This comes down to bioavailability, and how our body can access the iron from our food.

The role of healthy gut

Maintaining a healthy and happy gut is key for getting all the nutrients from your food and your overall wellbeing. Simple things like chewing your food well can help stimulate acid production, and friendly gut bacteria and probiotics such as lactoferrin play a vital role. 

Man holding stomach. Friendly gut bacteria and probiotics such as lactoferrin play a vital role in iron absorption.
Friendly gut bacteria and probiotics such as lactoferrin play a vital role in iron absorption.

Food sources of Iron

Dietary sources of Iron can be broken up into two main types: Haem iron and non-Haem iron. 

Haem iron is found in red meats such as beef and lamb, as well as fish, shellfish and poultry, and is readily absorbed by the body. For many reasons, including health, we’re eating less red meat than we used to, and therefore missing out on one of the best sources of iron. As more people consider shifting to plant-based and vegan diets due to environmental and health concerns, the risk of iron deficiency could increase.

Non-Haem sources include lentils, legumes, wholegrain fortified cereals and tofu. Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, brussel sprouts can also provide small amounts of iron.

Here in New Zealand, non-Haem sources such as wheat form a considerable portion of dietary iron; 40% according to the 2009 New Zealand Nutritional Survey (animal protein accounted for 18%). However, non-Haem or plant-based sources are not as bioavailable and often poorly absorbed. To assist with absorption, it can be paired with Haem iron foods such as red meat, fish or poultry. 

Vitamin C can be hugely beneficial. By eating citrus fruits, kiwifruits, capsicums and brassica vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, it can enhance the absorption of non-Haem iron, and increase iron status. Many iron supplements contain forms of vitamin C for this purpose.

In contrast, high levels of calcium, zinc or phytates, which can be found in legumes, rice and other grains can inhibit absorption of both Haem and non-Haem iron. Conversely, high intakes of iron can affect the absorption of zinc, and calcium.  

A range of foods that contain the mineral iron: beef, fish, spinach, legumes, wholegrain bread. Vitamin C helps with absorption of the mineral.
Variety is key, as there are small amounts of iron in many foods.

Variety is key, as there are small amounts of iron in many foods. It’s important to try and keep a good balance to help the body maintain sufficient mineral stores.

Lastly, although iron from plant sources is less bioavailable, if you don’t eat animal-based products, don’t assume you are iron deficient. Many vegetarians utilise iron from their diet very effectively. Again, it is best to take a blood test before undertaking supplementation.

A note about tea and coffee

It is recommended not to consume tea or coffee with iron-rich meals as this has been shown to inhibit absorption due to the tannins present. These tannins can bind to the iron and hinder absorption. Allow two hours before or after eating iron-rich foods or when taking an iron supplement.

A great option is to eat iron-rich foods with foods that are high in Vitamin C, such as orange juice or kiwifruit, which can help convert the available dietary iron into an absorbable form.

Iron in pregnancy

The WHO has estimated that anaemia is the most prevalent nutritional deficiency worldwide, affecting 33% of non-pregnant women, 40% of pregnant women and 42% of children worldwide. Research suggests that 20-30% of women of child-bearing age may be iron-deficient in New Zealand.

Pregnant woman sitting on floor in bedroom. 20-30% of women of child-bearing age may be iron-deficient in New Zealand.
20-30% of women of child-bearing age may be iron-deficient in New Zealand.

Women often require more iron when pregnant and nursing children. A lack of iron can lead to complications in pregnancy such as decreased fertility, reduced birth weight and reduced gestation periods. 

Iron deficiency in children can lead to irreversible effects on brain development, lack of growth, and low immunity to infection. Cognitive development can also be affected if a mother is lacking iron in her last trimester of pregnancy.

The issue of excess iron is rarely found in women of child-bearing age, due to menstrual blood loss. Having children and monthly cycles can often deplete women’s iron stores for many years to follow.

Iron for athletes

Iron can be critically important for endurance athletes. Anaemia or even marginal iron deficiency can impair performance as it reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and inhibits mitochondrial enzyme function in the cell. 

Endurance athletes often deplete their iron stores more rapidly through sweat loss, red blood cell destruction, and gastro-intestinal blood loss.

Male athlete running on track. Iron liquid mineral for energy.
Endurance athletes often deplete their iron stores more rapidly through sweat loss.

Some athletes have difficulty meeting their iron needs due to factors such as calorie restriction, avoiding animal-based products and a high carbohydrate intake. Those training for more than six hours per week are more at risk and should have their iron status checked at least once a year. 

When to supplement

At certain times of life, there is an increased need for iron. In infancy, experiencing growth spurts in childhood, adolescence, when pregnant and breastfeeding, and exercising often.

Woman taking care of her daughter with minerals supplements
Iron deficiency in children can lead to irreversible effects on brain development, lack of growth, and low immunity to infection. Cognitive development can also be affected if a mother is lacking iron in her last trimester of pregnancy.

“Really easy to use, and noticed a big difference within a couple of days in my daughter.”

– Becky

Elderly men often have low iron status or anaemia due to weak stomach acid. Try to avoid or limit the use of antacids, heartburn or stomach acid lowering medication that can prevent absorption of iron and other minerals. 

Iron supplementation should only be recommended following a consultation with a healthcare professional, especially for those on medication. They may suggest a test which measures haemoglobin levels, determining the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood cells. An additional serum ferritin test measures the amount of iron stored in the body.

Iron deficiency can develop slowly and correcting it can also be a slow process. A supplement may be required for at least a few months to replenish your iron levels. Always use as directed and keep out of reach of children. 

Coory, David. Stay Healthy by supplying what’s lacking in your diet. 1992
Schauss, Alexander G. Minerals, Trace Elements, & Human Health. Life Sciences Press. 1995
WHO guidance helps detect iron deficiency and protect brain development. 2020
Ministry of Health ­– Manatū Hauora. Iron overload (Haemochromatosis). 2018

The information in this article is not intended as a medical prescription for any disease or illness. Nothing stated here should be considered medical advice. Use as directed. If symptoms persist, consult your healthcare professional. 

Are you getting enough Iodine?

Woman holding mug and looking out to sea. Are you getting enough iodine?

Are you getting enough iodine?

When you hear the word iodine, you may think of the tablets used to disinfect water on camping trips or the yellow liquid used for disinfecting cuts and grazes when we were younger. Or you may just remember it from the periodic table in chemistry class.

Iodine is one of the most important life-sustaining elements. For more than 100 years, it has been known as the element that is necessary for thyroid hormone production. However, it is so much more than that.

Iodine is found in each and every one of the trillions of cells in the body, and responsible for the production of all the other hormones in the body.

It is a powerful antibiotic, and has potent antibacterial, antiviral properties.

It has strong anti-inflammatory effects by neutralising free radicals and is necessary for proper immune system function. Working together with other minerals like Selenium, it has many therapeutic benefits for a range of modern illnesses and diseases.

It is estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that more than half of the world’s population live in an area of iodine deficiency, and that this has risen 400% in the last few decades due to soil depletion and an increase in environmental contaminants that have replaced it.

Our body does not make iodine, so we need to access it from the foods we eat. But if the nutrients are not in the soil to begin with, it cannot be in the food we eat, and this can lead to common deficiencies.

Iodine deficiency in New Zealand

Soil in coastal areas are naturally iodine-rich, as are the dairy products produced by the cows that graze there. Fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables that are grown in coastal areas are also rich in iodine.

Despite being a coastal nation, New Zealand soils are low in iodine, and this is reflected in our locally grown produce.

This can be due to intensive farming, lack of crop rotation and the use of fertilisers. Coupled with changes to our diet, the reduced use of iodised salt in the household, the prevalence of processed foods, many New Zealanders are now lacking important nutrients such as iodine that are key to good health.

The WHO’s research has suggested deficiencies in both Australia and New Zealand are re-emerging, when they were previously thought to be iodine sufficient.

This research suggests that we may be consuming less than 60% of what is recommended. While we all need iodine, it is especially important for women who are trying to fall pregnant, are currently pregnant or who are breastfeeding, as the body demands more during this time due to increased thyroid hormone production, and the requirements of the developing baby.

Woman smiling and leaning on fence in countryside.
Research suggests that we may be consuming less than 60% of what is recommended.

Properly evaluating and treating iodine deficiency will help people support thyroid health and immune system function, increase their energy levels, and help improve general health and wellbeing. This can be achieved by some simple changes to their diet or daily supplementation in consultation with their health practitioner. It can be as little as a couple of drops of potassium iodide in a glass of water each day to get you feeling better, and help you avoid some of the common but serious health problems we are seeing today in New Zealand and around the world.

The best results are seen with a holistic approach, and increasing the intake of important vitamins, minerals and electrolytes through a wholefood diet.

The hungry thyroid

The thyroid is often referred to as a ‘hungry’ part of the body, in reference to its high nutritional demands.

This butterfly-shaped endocrine gland surrounds the windpipe and is important for metabolism, regulating digestion and your heart rate. It facilitates energy production and mental agility. The thyroid also helps with fat burning too, by determining how quickly and efficiently kilojoules are burned up, and it assists in the breakdown of proteins. Thyroid function also assists the suppleness and strength of our hair, skin and nails.

Iodine is an essential ingredient in all thyroid hormones, including T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine). It is important to maintain sufficient amounts of iodine, and they are required to be synthesised in adequate amounts. In a low thyroid state, known as hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland can’t make enough thyroid hormone to keep the body running normally. The metabolic state is therefore reduced which can lead to weight gain.

When the thyroid gland is releasing excess amounts of thyroid hormone, it is known as hyperthyroidism, which is an overactive or elevated metabolic state which can result in fatigue, irregular heartbeat, unexplained weight loss and brain fog.

When you have an adequate intake of iodine, your body contains 20-50g, and 75% of that amount is stored in the thyroid. However large amounts are also stored in other parts of the body, including the salivary glands, the breasts, ovaries, and the brain. In the brain it concentrates in the substantia nigra, the part of the brain that is associated with Parkinson’s disease.

One of the first signs of deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland.

The lack of iodine causes the gland to expand in an attempt to extract as much iodine in the bloodstream as possible. If your iodine intake is low, this will be reflected in low levels of thyroid hormone. You may then experience fatigue, dry skin, constipation, systemic inflammation, a hoarse voice, delayed reflexes and some cognitive impairment.

It is best to consult your doctor or health professional should you identify any of these symptoms. Anybody taking thyroid medication should always discuss their condition with a health professional before taking supplementary iodine.

The role of selenium

Selenium, another important mineral and antioxidant, plays a significant role in regulating thyroid function and iodine metabolism. The thyroid contains more selenium by weight than any other organ in the body.

Selenium is a required component for the production of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which protects the body from damage with antioxidant capabilities.

Without this enzyme, the thyroid gland is susceptible to damage from oxidants, there would be no activation of thyroid hormone without selenium.

Pregnant woman lying on bed. Pregnant and breastfeeding women require more iodine.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women require more iodine.

The need for iodine before pregnancy

The consequences of iodine deficiency are most serious for women who are trying to fall pregnant, who are currently pregnant or are breastfeeding.

Thyroid hormones balance the function and development of the body’s major organs and influence the progress of the developing baby.

Research has shown that a lack of iodine can cause fetal and neonatal mental disabilities and growth problems, along with speech and hearing issues. Cognitive function and neurological development can be impaired when iodine levels are low.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women also require more iodine due to increased thyroid hormone production.

It is recommended that women take iodine supplements from the point of planned pregnancy and through the full duration of pregnancy as well as breastfeeding. Avoid kelp or seaweed supplements as they may be contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury. Multi-vitamin, multi-mineral and pre-natal supplements may or may not contain enough iodine, so it’s best to check.

Women with pre-existing thyroid conditions should always check with their health professional before taking a supplement.

How do I know if I’m deficient?

Under most states of iodine sufficiency, approximately 90% of dietary iodine eventually is excreted in the urine, with exception being the lactating female due to iodine excretion in the breast milk. Because of this, urine is the best biological fluid to use for assessment of deficiency.

If you are concerned there may be deficiency, you could undertake an iodine-loading test, otherwise known as a urinary iodine concentration (UIC) where you take a prescribed dose of iodine, then collect 24 hours of urine to undergo analysis with a health professional.

The principle of this test is that if you’re iodine sufficient, most of the dose will be excreted, and if there is a deficiency present, it will be instead be absorbed by the body.

Can I get enough iodine from salt?

Iodised table salt was implemented in many regions and countries around the world when iodine deficiency was recognised. In New Zealand in the 1920’s, the government allowed manufacturers to voluntarily add iodine to table salt. This was mainly to safeguard against thyroid enlargement (goitre) and the severe mental retardation of cretinism, although the incidence of these conditions was very rare in New Zealand.

Closeup image of unrefined, unprocessed sea salt. A better option than table salt.
Unrefined, unprocessed sea salt is a better option than table salt.

In recent decades we have seen people consume less salt due to health concerns, while some avoid salt entirely. Salt used in processed foods is often non-iodised to save on costs, so is not a source of iodine despite the sodium content.

In recent times we are seeing a prevalence of sea salt, or kosher salt, promoted as a healthier alternative. However, sea salt is a poor source of iodine, and we should look for unrefined, unprocessed sea salt, with some products now enriched with New Zealand sea kelp. The iodine in salt is not very bioavailable in our bodies, it is better absorbed through liquid and food sources. 

Other sources of dietary iodine

It can be difficult to identify sources and the quantity of iodine in most foods. However, it is naturally present in seawater, so therefore seafood is a good source, especially seaweed, shellfish and saltwater fish. It’s also naturally present in soil, and found in eggs and dairy, including yoghurt, cow’s milk, ice cream and cheese.

If you don’t have access to shellfish or other seafood, or if the soil is deficient due to intensive farming, you’ll need to access it from other sources.  

Iodine levels in milk can vary according to the soils in which the animals have grazed and factors such as the groundwater used in irrigation, fertilisers used and the feed for the livestock. Interestingly, organic milk is estimated to contain roughly 30-40% less iodine than conventional milk, owing to alternative processing methods.

It is difficult for most people to obtain adequate iodine by eating foods that are natural sources of iodine.

That said, in 2009, Iodine fortification of bread became mandatory with the exception of organic bread, non-yeast-leavened bread and bread mixes. When salt was iodised in the 20th century, this significantly improved the iodine levels within the New Zealand population, but recently deficiencies have again become apparent, hence the need for the fortification of foods.

Iodine dosage guidelines

There is no single dose of iodine that is effective for everyone. The best approach is working with a health professional that is knowledgeable about iodine.

If you eat seafood and other iodine-rich foods, use iodised salt, take a multi-vitamin or mineral supplement, you may be able to obtain adequate levels.

Recommended daily allowances range from 100-250mcg a day, with the exception of pregnant or breastfeeding women, who may require more than 300mcg per day due to increased hormone production in early pregnancy, increased urinary iodine excretion, and the transfer of iodine to the fetus or the nursing infant when feeding.

Some leading iodine experts suggest significantly larger daily doses, even up to 12mg. In Japan, the average daily intake is 12-13 milligrams due to increased consumption of seaweed and other seafood.

Iodine Liquid Mineral: Just 2 drops a day = 255mcg of Potassium Iodide


Iodine is one the most basic elements of all life on earth, it is present in the ocean, marine life and in every one of the trillions of cells in our body. The role it plays in our everyday wellbeing cannot be overstated. As our bodies can’t produce iodine, there are simple steps we can take to make sure we can rebalance and replenish our mineral levels, and avoid deficiencies.

Brownstein, MD. D. Iodine. Why You Need It And Why You Can’t Live Without It. 2014
Reader’s Digest. The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals & Herbs. 2000
Schauss, Alexander G. Minerals, Trace Elements, & Human Health. Life Sciences Press. 1995
Kohrle J. The Trace Element Selenium and The Thyroid Gland. Biochimie. 1999
Smallridge RC, Ladenson PW. Hypothyroidism In Pregnancy: Consequences To Neonatal Health. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001
Iodine. Ministry of Health Manatū Hauora Website.
Editors: de Benoist, Bruno. Andersson, Maria. Iodine status Worldwide. WHO Global Database on Iodine Deficiency. World Health Organisation, Geneva. 2004
Ministry of Health Manatū & Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes. 2006, updated 2017.

The information in this article is not intended as a medical prescription for any disease or illness. Nothing stated here should be considered medical advice. Use as directed. If symptoms persist, consult your healthcare professional.