10 Signs of iron deficiency - Part 1
Undetected anaemia might be a reason why you feel constantly tired, fatigue and you may even have difficulty losing or maintain your body weight. This is often the picture I see in my functional medicine practice.
Iron deficiency anaemia is so common in females that I feel there is an urgency to write about it. It is found through the Obstetrical and Gynaecology Survey from May 2015 that;
"Iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) remains a widely underdiagnosed and unappreciated women's health issue, affecting women of all ages. Despite the fact that IDA is easily diagnosed and treated, it continues to be a major public health issue. The World Health Organization estimates that 30% of non-pregnant and more than 42% of pregnant women have anaemia. (1)
Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition when your body does not have enough iron to carry on functioning and will have difficulty carrying oxygen around your body, supporting your immunity and producing energy. Iron even has its function in collagen production this is where your skin gets its strength and elasticity. Women with hypothyroidism will also experience iron deficiency anaemia.
So you can see how it is important to have this health supporting mineral at the optimum level. However, too much iron in the body also has a negative effect on the body, so before you get yourself on iron supplements, it is important to make sure you ask your GP to tests your ferritin level or seek support from a qualified nutritional therapist who can assist you with this.
As a Functional Medicine Nutritionist, my approach to correcting health problems is to always look at the root cause of what is causing the problems. So in light of this, I would like to share some of the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia and the reasons why you get these symptoms:
1. Fatigue and low energy
Iron is a major component of the haemoglobin production which transports oxygen around your body. 60% of your iron is found in haemoglobin. 20% of your iron is also present in ferritin. This is why I place a high importance on checking my clients iron status by measuring their ferritin level as well as checking their haemoglobin. You need an optimum iron stature, iron is called the "blood builder mineral" - it builds your red blood cells which the main function is to carry oxygen around your body. You need this oxygen for energy, and to thrive in life. (2)
2. Shortness of breath
This is another classic example of when you will struggle with body oxygenation if iron is not at its optimum level. Think of the function of iron in relation to oxygen, cellular respiration and what will happen if you do not have enough oxygen in your blood. Of course, you will suffer from the shortness of breath.
I have experienced shortness of breath due to the very high demand form of physical activity I used to do as a professional athlete. For sure my need for iron was very high in those days and after many years of pushing my body above and beyond its limits this left me experiencing very bad iron deficiency anaemia, it took me quite a few years to recover from this. If you experience shortness of breath for unexplainable reasons and it is not changing despite your fitness level going up I strongly encourage you to check your ferritin status and consult with your GP about your health.
3. Very cold hands
Within just a few years in my clinical practice I learnt a lot especially about the body and the symptoms it will show before the storm comes. I always welcome my clients with a handshake not just to be polite but also to learn about their body temperature. You’ll be amazed at how many women in my practice have freezing cold hands when I initially meet them, and when the laboratory results arrive it is confirmed that these women are in fact low in iron. Cold hands tell me that your blood circulation might need some support. Blood ensures that you are getting all the nutrients passed to all your organs and tissues, so for the preventative measures, you must make sure your blood quality is the best it could be. There are other sings why you might have cold hand and feet but it will not harm you to check if you have an optimum ferritin storage.
If you think your hands are cold because it is genuinely cold outside, by all means, get yourself a pair of cosy warm gloves. However, if you feel that this is becoming a prolonging issue, I definitely recommend checking your iron levels.
4. Pale skin
Okay, so this is a big one and so easy to spot. However, I frequently see women come into my clinic for the first time looking very pale yet they are undiagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia. (I have been there once maybe I can tell you all about my anaemia story in a future blog post.)
Your red blood cells contain haemoglobin, and actually, it is the haemoglobin that gives blood cells it's red colour. So when you are low in haemoglobin your skin might lose the pinkish colours as there is a reduction of blood flow, oxygen or red blood cells.
If you are seeking optimum health be empowered to tell your doctor that despite your iron levels being in its range it might actually be on the lower side because you have more need for extra iron. For example, if you are vegetarian, or do lots of exercises, or you are a frequent blood donor it is likely you will need extra iron.
Hypothyroidism is very common in women as well as men these days. If you suffer or recently have been diagnosed with low thyroid you may need to check your ferritin status (3,4,5) as your iron status could be affecting your thyroid functions. You might not be able to convert inactive thyroid into active one due to iron deficiency anaemia and this in long-term can, for example, affect your weight loss results. I personally see in my clinical practice many women with iron deficiency anaemia or low iron levels (that is recognised as normal), who also do not have optimal thyroid functions.
6. Digestive health issues
There is a high chance for you to have iron deficiency anaemia if you suffer from digestive health issues for example Celiac disease (6), an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye. Another condition that might be affecting iron absorption is IBD or Irritable Bowel Disease. (7) Generally, any digestive health problems might be influencing iron absorption (8) because this mineral is absorbed in your gut. Do you suffer from any constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, intestinal pain or gases? If your answer is yes it is possible you need to optimise your gut health. Remember healthy bowels are a key factor in achieving optimum iron absorption and for your general well-being
In part two of this blog post, I am going to focus on weight loss/weight gain and the other signs that you might be experiencing iron deficiency anaemia.
I hope this has been an insightful post that has given you more understanding of the way you feel and live your present life.
Please add any comments or questions you have got below this post and I will be happy to answers it for you.
Yours Daria x