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Periodontal disease isn’t just about your gums. It’s not even about your mouth. It’s about your whole body health.

The latest reminder? A follow-up study in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology recently confirmed that periodontitis – severe, advanced gum disease – may lead to anemia of chronic disease (ACD), a form of anemia seen in chronic infection and chronic inflammation. The researchers also found that treating the gum disease can improve anemic status.

iron from periodic tableGum disease triggers inflammation. In the short-term, this is exactly how your body should react. Over the long-term, though, inflammation is damaging, and that chronic inflammation is part and parcel of gum disease. Among other things, it interferes with your body’s ability to absorb iron.

Other factors that can lead to iron deficiency include blood loss, intense exercise or simply not getting enough through diet – especially during times of increased need, such as pregnancy, growth spurts, and lactation.

Lack of iron is a big problem. Your blood cells need it. Without enough, your red blood cells can’t carry enough oxygen throughout your body. Fatigue, dizziness, difficulty concentrating and other symptoms of anemia are the result. Your body isn’t getting what it needs to work properly.

It is getting more vulnerable to infections and illness.

So how much iron do you need? The general recommendation is 8 mg daily for men, 18 mg daily for women under 50, and 8 mg for women over 50. (Recommendations are even higher for women during pregnancy and lactation, and vary for children according to age.)

While iron supplements are available, your best first source is – always and again – real whole foods. Meats and other animal source foods provide heme iron, while plants provide non-heme iron. Since non-heme iron isn’t absorbed as well as heme, it’s especially important for vegans to watch their intake and eat in ways that promote iron-absorption. Especially iron-rich foods include

  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Red meat
  • Egg yolks
  • Oysters, clams, mussels and squid
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Tofu and edamame (be sure to get non-GMO)
  • Quinoa

For healthy adults, there’s little risk of overdoing it with dietary iron. Iron supplements, however, – like all supplements – are best taken under a health practitioner’s guidance, as overconsumption can cause problems (as well as interfere with your ability to absorb other essential nutrients, such as zinc). If you are taking any pharmaceutical medications, talk with your doctor before you start taking any kind of supplement to avoid any potential negative interactions.

Image via Bertucio Design @ Shapeways

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