Do you constantly feel exhausted and weak, or are you frequently avoiding activities that require a lot of energy to perform? “Yes,” you may say. “But I’ve been working a lot of hours at the office, so of course I’m tired.”
Some people walk around constantly feeling fatigued or indifferent toward life, believing that apathy is simply a daily part of existing.
Being overworked is one thing, but continuous symptoms of weakness, fatigue, or dizziness could actually be signs of an iron deficiency.
Why Iron Deficiency Occurs
The labels “iron deficiency,” “anemia,” and “iron deficiency anemia” are often used interchangeably. An iron deficiency happens when there is little iron in the body. If left untreated, it can quickly progress to a form of anemia called iron deficiency anemia.Anemia transpires when you have a low count of red blood cells in your body—iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. This kicks in if your blood cells don’t have enough hemoglobin, which is the protein that helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. Iron is imperative for the red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues; without the presence of iron, the red blood cells can’t carry the oxygen efficiently.In many cases, the loss of blood can contribute to low iron counts. Common causes of excessive bleeding are:
- Menstrual periods
- Cancer in the esophagus and stomach
- Peptic ulcer disease
An iron deficiency can also occur if you have a certain disease or have recently had surgery. Some examples include:
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Gastric bypass surgery
Signs and Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
Symptoms of iron deficiency generally occur before it progresses to iron deficiency anemia. Mild symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- Grumpy moods
- Feeling weak or tired
- Constant headaches
- Difficulty keeping focused
Moderate cases of iron deficiency can include:
- Blue coloring to the whites of the eyes
- Brittle nails
- Strange hunger desires for non-edible foods
- Pale skin
- Sore tongue
- Shortness of breath
If iron deficiency progresses to iron deficiency anemia, the symptoms can include:
- Dark, tar-colored stool or blood
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Weight loss
The Top 10 Iron-Rich Foods
If you have an iron deficiency, or if you don’t consume enough iron, I recommend you eat various whole foods, such as grass-fed meats, organic free-range poultry, and organic dairy products. Here is a list of some prime iron-rich foods:
- Liver: Four ounces contains 9.5 mg of iron.
- Spinach: One cup contains 6.6 mg of iron.
- Lamb: A three-ounce piece contains 1 mg of iron.
- Chickpeas: One cup contains 4.7 mg of iron.
- White beans: One cup contains 6.6 mg of iron.
- Kidney beans: One cup contains 5.2 mg of iron.
- Duck: Half a duck breast contains 3.7 mg of iron.
- Sardines: One can contains 3.7 mg of iron.
- Grass fed beef: Three ounces contains 2 mg of iron.
- Swiss chard: One cup contains almost 4 mg of iron.
Iron-Deficiency: The Facts
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines iron deficiency as the top nutritional deficiency in the entire world.
- People in developing countries are more prone to iron deficiencies, but it is extremely common in the U.S. as well.
- Women who have heavy menstrual periods are more vulnerable to iron deficiencies.
- In the U.S., the number of people that visited a hospital emergency department in 2011 with anemia listed as their primary discharge was 237,000. In most cases, the visits were from people who were unaware they even had an iron deficiency.
- In 2011, the percentage of people who were diagnosed with some form of anemia was approximately 10%.
- In 2011, the number of discharges for first-time anemia diagnoses was 392,000. The average length of stay per patient was four days.
- The mortality statistics for anemia or iron deficiencies in 2011 were 4,894; this worked out to about 1.5 deaths per every 100,000 Americans.
If Left Untreated
If iron deficiency anemia is left untreated, it can lead to severe heart problems, chest pains, or even fainting. Without iron, the blood cannot properly carry oxygen to the heart and brain, which will eventually cause both to slow down later on. Untreated iron deficiency anemia can also cause the immune system to become weak, to the point where infectious diseases will become more frequent. If you believe you have an iron deficiency, make sure to visit your doctor to get tested.
“Anemia or Iron Deficiency,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site, April 8, 2015; http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/anemia.htm.
“Iron,” The World’s Healthiest Foods web site; http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=70, last accessed May 14, 2015.
“Iron deficiency anemia,” MedlinePlus web site; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000584.htm, last accessed May 14, 2015.
Pullen, L.C., “USPSTF: Evidence Lacking for Iron Deficiency Screening,” Medscape web site, March 31, 2015; http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/842404.
Rogers, R., “Signs and Symptoms of Low Iron in Women,” Livestrong.com, April 13, 2015; http://www.livestrong.com/article/408169-signs-symptoms-of-low-iron-in-women/.