One of the most common signs of iron deficiency is also one of the most difficult to detect. Most people are so used to the hustle and bustle of daily lives that they are used to feeling a bit tired. For this reason exhaustion is often dismissed as a necessary part of life. The reality is that iron deficiency causes less oxygen to reach your tissues, which deprives the body of necessary energy. If your typical fatigue is coupled with feelings of weakness, irritability, or an inability to focus, then iron, or a lack of it may have something to do with it. This is how the term “tired blood” came about to describe anemia.
Women are at a greater risk for becoming iron deficient due to the significant blood loss during their periods. In women, the number one cause of iron deficiency is too-heavy periods. Women with heavy periods will lose too much blood, and only replace a portion of it before the cycle repeats the next month. It’s like trying to fill a cup with a hole in the bottom, it never fills all the way to the top. During a typical period women should only lose 2-3 tablespoons of blood. If you are changing your tampon more than every two hours, talk to your gynecologist.
Hemoglobin gives blood the familiar red color, but it also gives your skin it’s rosy color as well. Low levels of this protein can cause the color to be sucked right out of skin, hair, eyes and more. For individuals with a light complexion it is easy to spot. For those with a darker skin tone, check the insides of lips, gums and inside the bottom of your eyelids. If any of them are less red than normal, low iron levels may be to blame.
Out of Breath
No matter how deeply you breathe, if the oxygen levels in your blood are low you will feel out of air. Iron deficiency can reduce the amount of oxygen that your brain, muscles and other tissue receive. If you notice yourself getting out of breath doing things that you'd normally handle just fine—be it climbing a flight or stairs or knocking out your usual workout—iron deficiency may have something to do with it.
When your heart is overworked it can suffer from irregular heartbeats, enlargement, murmurs and even the possibility of heart failure. Before iron deficiency would cause something as severe as heart failure you would have to been anemic for quite some time, and you would likely be very well aware of it. However, it’s a good idea to have your iron levels checked if you already know you have heart problems, as iron deficiency can exacerbate those problems.
Since your brain is responsible for directing and controlling most of your bodily functions, an iron deficient body will prioritize getting oxygen to the brain first, and worry about other body tissue later. Even still, your head will get less oxygen than it would like, and in response you get headaches. If you frequently suffer from headaches or migraines it may be worthwhile to check if low iron levels are responsible.
Unusual Cravings (Pica)
You probably know a friend, or family member who has a habit of chewing on the end of their pen or on straws. Called pica, craving (and sometimes eating) non-food substances can be a sign of iron deficiency. People who are iron deficient may be tempted to munch on chalk, paper, or even dirt. Most commonly though, pica manifests with cravings to chew on ice. It is believed that the cravings are due to the body trying to replenish essential nutrients.
As if life wasn’t already stressful enough, low iron levels of iron can increase feelings of anxiety and worry. When the body is lacking the oxygen it needs it triggers the sympathetic nervous system to send you into fight or flight mode. Plus when your sympathetic nervous system is on edge your heart will race as well, making it hard to feel calm even when you have every reason to be relaxed.
Iron deficiency, typically when it has progressed to full blown anemia, can cause your hair to fall out. When the body lacks sufficient oxygen it goes into survival mode, and only supports the vital functions, as opposed to things like keeping your hair intact. That being said it’s totally normal to lose a little hair here and there, in fact most people lose over a hundred hairs from their scalp daily.
Vegetarian or Vegan
Vegans and vegetarians know they need to eat a specific diet to gain all their necessary nutrients, but not all iron is absorbed the same. The body will absorb iron from heme sources, such as meat, poultry and fish, at two to three times the rate of non-heme sources like plants. If you are looking to increase your iron intake without adding meats back to your diet eating dark and leafy greens as well as legumes can be paired with vitamin C rich foods to boost iron absorption.
When the body is lacking iron it will slow the function of the thyroid and block its metabolism boosting effects. This condition, known as Hypothyroidism, is often missed and it’s estimated that 60% of people with a thyroid condition are unaware of it. So how can you tell if your thyroid is all out of whack? According to the American Thyroid Association if you notice low levels of energy, weight gain, or even a lower body temperature you should talk to your doctor.
When a woman is pregnant she needs to provide iron for both herself and the baby, and that can severely deplete the mother’s supply. In addition women can sometimes lose a significant amount of blood during the delivery which can drive iron levels even lower. If you are pregnant, have pregnancies close together, or regularly experience morning sickness it may be worthwhile to talk to your doctor about increasing your iron intake.
In addition to draining the color from your skin, an iron deficiency can also cause the color to disappear from your tongue as well. When iron levels are low so are levels of myoglobin, the protein that supports muscle health. This can result in complaints of a sore, inflamed or strangely smooth tongue that is often accompanied by
Just because you are getting enough iron in your diet doesn’t mean your body is absorbing it all. Gastrointestinal diseases such as celiac, Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis can lead to difficulty absorbing nutrient, including iron. These conditions cause the digestive tract to become inflamed and damaged. If you’ve been diagnosed with a digestive condition it may be wise to to ask your doctor about how you can increase your iron absorption.
If you have any of these symptoms of iron deficiency you should contact your health care provider and ask that your Iron level be checked. Iron deficiency is a common problem but Iron overload is also a concern, so make sure you contact your healthcare provider before taking any iron supplement to determine if you need iron and the correct dosage level. And remember if you need iron get Ferretts tablet, Ferretts IPS liquid or Ferretts Chewable Iron which are gentle and effective.
Contact your healthcare provider before taking any iron supplement.
WARNING: Accidental overdose of iron-containing products is a leading cause of fatal poisoning in children under 6. Keep this product out of reach of children. In case of accidental overdose, call a doctor or poison control center immediately.
*Statements on this page have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.