Nearly everyone knows that iron deficiency causes tiredness and fatigue but it’s one of the best kept secrets that iron deficiency causes much more than a tired body!
When we are fatigued we are not motivated for a start! But iron deficiency also effects our mood including feelings of depression!
Check out our, signs and symptoms, in the list below:
- Brittle nails or spooning of the nails
- Cracks at the sides of the mouth
- Pale skin
- Swelling or soreness of the tongue
- Chest pain
- Coldness in the hands and feet
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue, or feeling tired
- Irregular heartbeat
- Pica, which are unusual cravings for nonfood items, such as ice, dirt, paint, or starch.
- Restless legs syndrome
- Shortness of breath
- Pregnancy complications
- Increased risk of infection
- Motor or cognitive development delays in children
Three reasons you might be iron deficient:
1. You aren’t getting in enough iron in your diet
2. You are losing blood somehow, somewhere!
3. You are not absorbing the iron you are getting from your diet!
It’s one thing to supplement with iron when you are low it’s another to find out why you are low! This later is often forgotten in our knee jerk ability to supplement or have an iron infusion, yet this is critical if you want to stop the ongoing loss. In saying that if you are just not getting in enough high iron foods that is easy enough to learn what they are how often you must eat them to satisfy your body’s requirement for them, but it can commonly be a result of something else and this must be identified.
How to check your iron levels
It is important to check your stored iron levels annually, which you can measure in a blood test called an iron study, this measures serum iron, transferrin (or total iron binding capacity), transferrin saturation and serum ferritin (stored iron) levels. To see if you are at the right ranges all need to be tested and interpreted depending on many factors.
Factors to be considered include things such as, menstruating females who are losing blood monthly will have values that differ from females who are not menstruating or are menopausal, males have much higher levels of stored iron due to this, individuals who are inflamed will have higher ferritin levels (which actual can be a marker that identifies inflammation is occurring for an individual because the body stores iron when its inflamed), certain health conditions can alter results such as colitis or celiac disease. Testing levels for a female just before menstruation will show the highest that iron ever will be for that female and levels tests just after menstruation will be the lowest. An individual who dosn’t eat red meat is likely to have lower levels than an individual who does, although these other factors still need to be considered in the interpretation process.
So careful interpretation is key!
What you can do to address iron deficiency
- Eat iron rich foods such as liver, grass fed red meat, spinach, pumpkin seeds, lentils, white beans, oysters and dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa). Even though animal-based iron (Heme) is absorbed better in the body than plant based iron (non-heme), with a bit of attention to details you can do many things to improve your iron stores if you’re plant based.
- Eat foods high in vitamin C such as kiwi, red and green capsicum, and strawberries etc can enhance absorption of iron if you eat it together. Avoid calcium-rich foods with iron-rich foods as calcium interferes with the absorption of iron. If you are taking these supplements take them apart.
- Optimise your gut function- If your gut is compromised it can affect the absorption of iron as stomach acid helps absorption. If you feel bloated often or feel full quickly after eating you might have poor stomach acid (hypochlorhydria), apple cider vinegar with the mother or lemon juice in water can help this and also enhance absorption of iron.
- Take good quality supplement. Not all supplements are created equal, it is best if you talk to a naturopath or a nutritionist to get the proper iron supplement that suits your situation.
- Iron is best taken morning or night and there are forms which are gentler on the gut.
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Pineda O, Ashmead H.D. (2001). Effectiveness of treatment of iron-deficiency anemia in infants and young children with ferrous bis-glycinate chelate. Nutrition.(5):381-4. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(01)00519-6. PMID: 11377130.
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U.S. Department of Agriculture ARS. USDA National Nutrient