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Here’s what you need to know about iron deficiency

Low iron affects one in three people worldwide, making it the most common nutritional deficiency. So why are we still so hazy on its definition? If your understanding of iron deficiency could use a brush-up, here’s everything you need to know. 

If you stood up at your desk right now and announced, ‘I’m low in iron’, half the office is bound to chime in with a ‘Me too!’. If your workplace is predominantly women, you might even hear a couple of humble brags about how much of a hassle it is getting regular iron transfusions. 

But while conversations about iron deficiency have become as common as discussing our favourite Black Friday bargains, a recent survey commissioned by CSL has revealed most Aussies don’t actually have a clear-cut understanding of the condition. As the records show, women tend to be at a higher risk of iron deficiency, but not every indicative symptom is common knowledge.  

Women often chalk their symptoms up to ‘one too many periods’ over their lifetime, and aside from popping a few over-the-counter iron supplements, many people living with some degree of iron deficiency don’t always seek long-term treatment. Luckily Sydney-based General Practitioner Dr Michela Sorensen is here to set the record straight, sharing the causes, symptoms and treatment options every Aussie should be aware of. 

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What exactly is an iron deficiency?

Yes, four years of high school chemistry might have conditioned you to think of the element as tough grey metal with a symbol that tripped you up in most exams, but iron actually plays a pretty crucial role in the human body, carrying oxygen around in the blood. 

Without sufficient levels of it, your immune system would start to crack, as well as your concentration and energy levels.  

And while most people, deficient or not, are aware of the most common symptom– tiredness– associated with the condition, the survey revealed only one per cent of participants knew the complete list of identifiable symptoms. 

“Some of the lesser known, and perhaps more obscure, symptoms include pale skin, chest tightness or shortness of breath, dizziness, tongue redness and pain, brittle nails and cravings for unusual food such as ice,” explains Dr Sorensen. “In little kids, iron deficiency can often present as poor appetite or fussiness.”

The GP also notes that women are simply placed at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency due to menstruation, “Iron is an important building block of our red blood cells and is carried in these red blood cells,” she explains. “When women have a period they lose blood, which equates to losing iron.”

Given the physiologically-taxing experience of pregnancy, birth and postpartum recovery, many women’s bodies require greater levels of iron throughout these periods too. 

Is iron deficiency over-diagnosed? 

With tiredness being the number one indicator of the condition, it can be difficult to determine whether people are truly experiencing a deficiency, or simply stay up too late watching Gossip Girl re-runs. But are we over-diagnosing ourselves due to our limited understanding, or is iron deficiency really as rampant as it seems?

“Symptoms of iron deficiency can be very non-specific, and a lot of people do attribute their tiredness to it, when it may not actually be the culprit,” Dr Sorensen says. “Some conditions that mimic iron deficiency include hypothyroidism, vitamin B12 deficiency or even depression or burnout. Perimenopause can also cause similar symptoms.”

The experienced GP also adds that people experiencing exhaustion often just want to be told they can ‘fix’ whatever is causing it, which is a box having low iron ticks. 

“However, iron deficiency is very simple to diagnose,” she explains. “A simple blood test to check iron stores can tell you if you’re deficient or not.”

So you’ve got low iron, what now?

If a blood test does alert you to your depleted iron levels, don’t be alarmed. There are plenty of treatment options available depending on how serious your lack of supply is, from simple tablet supplements to iron transfusions. 

Left untreated, iron deficiency can take a serious toll on your everyday life, according to Dr Sorensen, “It can cause fatigue and brain fog which can impact on work productivity, not to mention severe iron deficiency can make day to day activities really exhausting.” 

As the GP explains, the easiest way to manage your body’s natural iron levels is by increasing your intake of foods like red meat, legumes, almonds and green leafy vegetables. 

“Calcium actually reduces your absorption of iron, while vitamin C increases it, so maybe have an orange juice with that steak instead of a glass of milk!” Dr Sorensen says.

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Hair Products and Styling Tools Carry Serious Risks, Warn Experts

Do you use heated tools after running product through your hair? New research shows the chemical molecules could cause significant health problems when heated.

Cyclic volatile methyl siloxanes (cVMS), commonly found in hair products, are known for shining and smoothing tresses — desirable qualities when you’re trying to tame frizz and prevent tangles.

But a new study published this month by the American Chemical Society suggests that when these molecules are heated by a hair straightener or curling wand, they might spark long-term negative consequences for personal and environmental health.

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Study participants used their typical hair products — including creams, sprays and oils — and heating tools in a controlled home environment.

Researchers measured the emissions of cVMS and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a class of chemicals that can be harmful, with some even known to cause cancer.

“Indoor hair care routines can have long-term impacts on inhalation exposures to VOCs and the urban atmospheric environment,” the study authors wrote, noting that emissions “could potentially impact outdoor atmospheric chemistry.”

Among cVMS compounds, researchers documented a notable uptick in emissions of the chemicals decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5) and octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (D4) during their trials.

D4 and D5 have been associated with “fatal liver and lung damage in mice” and “adverse effects on the respiratory tract, liver, and nervous system of laboratory animals,” respectively.

Product type, hair length, and the type and temperature of the styling tool affected emissions. Longer hair and higher temperatures meant more VOCs.

The researchers noted that turning on an exhaust fan helped clear the air within 20 minutes, but this practice could affect outdoor air quality in densely populated cities.

“Surveys on different population groups indicate 16 to 70% of participants use leave-on hair care or hair styling products,” the scientists wrote.

“Considering an average use frequency of [hair care products] between 2 and 5 times per week based on surveys on usage patterns and assuming that 10% of [these products] are siloxane-based, the total indoor-to-outdoor emission of D5 could reach 0.4 to 6 tons per year in the US,” they concluded.

The study authors encourage further research on the long-term human health effects of siloxane exposure.

Other recent hair-raising studies found chemicals in shampoo and hair dyes can raise the risk for serious diseases.

This story was originally published on as Hair products, styling tools can pose significant health risks, experts warn

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Debunking 9 common myths about penises

Think you know everything there is to know about the penis? Think again. Here’s what’s actually in store for the male member as the aging process takes its toll.

No matter how many supplements and green juices you pump into your body, or how often you give your wardrobe a totally fresh overhaul, you simply can’t escape the inevitable process of aging.

While women are basically conditioned from childhood to prevent the gradual process of physiological deterioration, embarking on an endless cycle of tightening, toning and dyeing, the changes experienced by men are considerably less talked about. 

Alongside thinning (and greying) hair, the pop of a beer belly, and a sudden interest in gardening, the aging process unleashes a variety of physiological changes to a man’s sexual health and function. 

So what actually happens to the penis’ two major functions, urination and sex? Luckily, Associate Professor Tim Moss and his 20 years of experience in the field join Body+Soul to set the record straight. Here are the most common questions answered about the penis as it ages. 

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#1. Is trouble peeing caused by the penis?

If you’re basing your understanding of an older man’s penile health on what you see on TV, you’re probably picturing someone standing over a toilet late at night, unsuccessfully willing on a steady stream of urine. While it’s an easy assumption to make, Moss explains challenges with urination aren’t usually caused directly by the penis.

“Enlargement of the prostate gland, which happens to most men as they age, interferes with urine flow,” Moss says, adding that the muscles of the bladder or pelvic floor may also weaken with age.

While the prostate gland might enlarge, the actual penis is unlikely to change in shape and size over the course of the adult life. However, there is a lack of research that has been conducted to definitively outrule the possibility. 

#2. Is male menopause real? 

The phrase ‘male menopause’ has gained rapid traction over recent years, but how accurate is the concept? According to Moss, while the male aging process can certainly be defined by key physiological chances, they aren’t quite comparable to what women experience during menopause. 

“Males don’t have a sudden age-related change in sex hormone levels like females do,” says Moss. “There’s lots of noise about low testosterone levels, but if you stay fit and healthy as you age testosterone levels don’t fall.”

More realistic explanations for a drastic decrease in testosterone levels with age are unmanaged chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, obesity, or heart disease.

#3. Are men fertile forever?

Throughout history, women’s ability to procreate successfully has been largely defined by their biological clock, with increase age being one of the biggest barriers to healthy conception and foetal development. Men, on the other hand, produce their end of the bargain (sperm) constantly. But even though a man’s procreational timeline is far less constrained than a woman’s, their baby-making abilities will also eventually decrease with age.   

“There’s a misconception that male fertility lasts forever,” explains Moss. “In fact, older men take longer to get their partners pregnant, and there’s a link between a father’s age when children are conceived and some neurodevelopmental problems in their children.”

According to the expert, breaks in DNA become more common with aging, possibly affecting the pregnancy experience and the health of a foetus. In short, sperm count and quality do indeed fall with age. 

#4. What causes erectile dysfunction?

The causes of erectile dysfunction (ED) usually depend on the age of the individual. In younger men, ED is associated with psychological indicators such as anxiety, while older men tend to experience ED as a result of physical health problems associated with worsening nerve and blood vessel function.

“The nerves and blood vessels that allow the increase in blood flow to the penis, to cause an erection, lose function with aging and disease,” explains Moss. “In fact, the ability to get an erection is a good indicator of cardiovascular health: people with erectile dysfunction are more likely than normal to have a heart attack or stroke.”

Many people believe ED is easily ‘fixed’ with a pill in all cases, an assumption Moss says is misguided. Given its major causes, the expert recommends lifestyle management techniques that promote cardiovascular function and stress reduction.

#5. Is erectile dysfunction inevitable?

According to Moss, roughly one in ten men under 40 experience ED, but just about every man over 85 has it. While the stats show every man is likely to experience some form of erectile dysfunction throughout his lifetime, there are a few reasons it may become more prevalent later in life, and aging isn’t always the culprit. 

“From what we know about what causes erectile dysfunction, it’s health problems like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, rather than aging itself, that cause it,” Moss says, adding there’s no age-related cut-off where erectile dysfunction suddenly becomes more of a problem.

Additionally, changes in erectile function usually occur gradually. People may notice spontaneous erections less often, take longer to get an erection, be unable to maintain one for a prolonged period of time, or may just notice their erections aren’t as hard as they once were.

#6. What happens to the libido?

The big question on everyone’s mind. While it’s common for libido to decrease with age, Moss explains changes to the adult sex drive happen all the time for a number of reasons, “Libido can fall when we’re unwell or stressed, or rise if we’re happy and relaxed or if we have a new partner,” he says.   

Furthermore, the sensations experienced during sex are also likely to change with age.

“There’s a decrease in sensitivity of the penis with age, it tends to take longer until ejaculation, longer before it’s possible to have an erection again after orgasm, and ejaculation feels like they have less ‘force’,” Moss explains.

#7. Can you reverse anything?

While Moss encourages a healthy lifestyle at all ages, he explains there’s only so much our bodies can tolerate before they stop working properly, “The penis is much like any other part of the male body: it is affected by aging but staying fit and healthy is the best way to prevent or slow down the associated changes.”

That means ensuring you incorporate regular exercise and a healthy diet into your routine from a young age, keeping your penis ‘happy’ through healthy cardiovascular function.

#8. What’s the worst thing you can do?

In general, people have a pretty good idea of what activities and indulgences impact their health in a beneficial way, as well as what habits should generally be avoided. Well, according to Moss, the penis responds to such things in the same way. 

“One thing that lots of people do that is definitely bad for their penises is smoking,” Moss explains. “The nerve and blood vessel damage caused by smoking is a real problem. Excessive alcohol consumption is also bad.”

Aside from chain-smoking Marlboros and polishing off a six-pack every night, the worst thing anyone can do is ignore any questionable symptoms, “Men seem to tolerate symptoms of disease for a while before they seek help,” Moss says. “Seeing a doctor when you notice a small problem is the best way to prevent it from becoming a big problem.”

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Everything you need to know about Australia’s vaping ban

As of next year, the importation of vapes will be banned in Australia, making it the harshest ruling around vaping of any country in the world. Here’s what you need to know about the new rules.

The federal government has announced a hefty crackdown on vaping around Australia, making it illegal to buy, use and sell as of January 1st 2024. 

The new laws have been designed to stop single-use vapes from being manufactured, advertised and sold around the country, and will make Australia the first nation to implement such strict laws. 

Earlier this year the federal government attempted a softer approach to curb vaping habits, which saw little success. So now, the devices will be prohibited to anyone without a script, which GPs say won’t be easy to get your hands on. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the new rules.

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What are the new rules?

The changes on January 1st are the first phase of the changes, which involve a ban on the importation of disposable single-use vapes.

Throughout 2024, legislation around vapes will continue to tighten, including “to limit flavours, reduce permissible nicotine concentrations and require pharmaceutical packaging.”  

Rules will also “prevent domestic manufacture, advertisement, supply and commercial possession of non-therapeutic and disposable single-use vapes to ensure comprehensive controls on vapes across all levels of the supply chain.” However, the government also notes there will be a transition period for businesses to comply with the new requirements. 

The second phase of the bans will hit on March 1st 2024, and include the following changes:

  • Cessation of the personal importation of vapes
  • Ban on the importation of non-therapeutic vapes
  • Requirement for therapeutic vape importers and manufacturers to notify the Therapeutic Goods Administration of their product’s compliance with the relevant product standards
  • Requirement for importers to obtain a licence and permit from the Australian Government’s Office of Drug Control before the products are imported

To assist with enforcing the ban, the Australian Border Force will receive a grant of $25 million, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration will get $59.6 million over the next two years, which will work to strengthen product standards for therapeutic vapes.

Why are vapes being banned?

While millennials grew up surrounded by anti-smoking campaigns, which effectively weaned an entire generation off smoking, gen z did not, which meant they were easily romanced by the introduction of vapes – particularly as they were sold as a ‘healthier’ alternative.

In a statement about the changes, Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler said „Vaping is creating a whole new generation of nicotine dependency in our community.”

„Vaping was sold to governments and communities around the world as a therapeutic product to help long-term smokers quit. It was not sold as a recreational product – especially not one targeted to our kids but that is what it has become.

„We’re taking tough action because this is a major public health issue. Vaping is a gateway to smoking and smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Australia.“

According to a statement from the Department of Health and Aged Care, a new Special Access Scheme pathway will come into effect too, in line with the January bans. This will “Facilitate improved access to therapeutic vapes, whereby all medical practitioners and nurse practitioners will be able to prescribe their use where clinically appropriate.” 

Health implications of vaping 

At this stage, the full extent to which vaping can damage your health is not known, but it is significant. Vaping can lead to seizures, popcorn lung, impotence, sleep disorders, shrunken testicles, reduced sperm count and damaged skin. And the list of side effects is constantly growing.

Data from the first quarter of 2023 showed one in seven 14- to 17-year-olds and one in five 18- to 24-year-olds are current vapers.

There is also strong evidence that “young Australians who vape are around three times more likely to take up tobacco smoking compared to young Australians who have never vaped.”

The new legislation aims to turn that statistic around, and find a solution to this new wave of nicotine dependency that has taken over the nation. 

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Healthy Ish: Felicity Harley, Flavia Fayet0

Dietitian and scientist Dr Flavia Fayet-Moore chats about digestion and all those delicious foods and drinks that can wreak havoc on it, and what to do about it.  



To hear today’s full interview, where she discusses how to eat and drink your way to a healthier gut…search for Extra Healthy-ish wherever you get your pods.

You can follow her on Instagram and X @drflavs, see her site here or check Foodiq global here



Online: Head to for your daily digital dose of health and wellness.

On social: Via Instagram at @bodyandsoul_au or Facebook. Or, TikTok here. Got an idea for an episode? DM host Felicity Harley on Instagram @felicityharley

In print: Each Sunday, grab Body+Soul inside The Sunday Telegraph (NSW), the Sunday Herald Sun (Victoria), The Sunday Mail (Queensland), Sunday Mail (SA) and Sunday Tasmanian (Tasmania). 

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