I am a twin. My sister would legitimately kill me if she ever found out about this post, but hey, she gave me some great direct evidence in support of the importance of iron in the diet, so that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Growing up we were a dangerous pair. The reason being not because we were similar, in fact it was quite the opposite. We were as different as any two humans could possibly be in every way – from appearance to personality. My parents gave us titles that we well deserved; they referred to her as “the brains” and me as “the brawn.” Not much has changed since then. It’s true that she’s nothing short of a genius. She graduated last year from University of Miami with a BS in Marine Science, BS in Biology, a Psychology minor, Chemistry minor, and a Classics minor. Now she’s earning a MS on a thesis track from Texas A&M in Marine Biology. I don’t think you could pay me enough to put myself through that workload. Point being, she is no stranger to mammalian physiology – she knows it inside and out.
Despite her intelligence, however, my sister never applied anything she knew about physiology to her own body. She spent long hours in the library chugging Redbull sleeping less than 4 hours a night eating junk food and not exercising using the excuse that she was “healthy” because she was a “vegetarian.” Needless to say, this was not the case. This lifestyle combined with and genetic predisposition allowed her BMI to creep up to a very high number – until about a year ago. When she got into grad school, she decided she needed to change. So she started tracking macronutrients using a really good website/mobile app called SparkPeople (http://www.sparkpeople.com/myspark/start-now.asp) and has done an incredible job dropping 75 pounds and is currently just 10 pounds outside of the “normal” weight range.
In November, I encouraged her to start exercising to push through a plateau. So she started running/walking a few times per week. She noticed some improvement in her fitness initially, but two weeks ago, she explained to me how she felt like she couldn’t get any faster because she was always winded and fatigued. She assumed it was because of her limited calories and that when she lost more weight it would stop. I asked her to walk me through what she ate in a typical day, and her problem was immediately apparent. Her diet contained ZERO milligrams of iron, and very limited calcium among other micronutrients.
Although she was unwilling to change her eating patterns, I eventually broke her down into adding a multi-vitamin fortified with iron and a calcium supplement. Just two weeks later, she had dropped over a minute off her mile times and had added more distance. She said she felt like she had much more energy even though she wasn’t eating more, and that “she felt like she could go forever!” With all her biological prowess she should have known that iron is essential in binding oxygen to hemoglobin, but hey, it’s still a win.
Point being: even smart people make mistakes when it comes to their own well-being.