If you’ve been feeling unusually tired lately or been struggling with brittle, damaged hair that won’t improve despite the countless masks and treatments you try, it could be down to an iron deficiency. Here are 4 signs you need to up your dose of this essential nutrient.
Affecting around 15% of pre-menopausal women and 10% of kids, iron deficiency is a widespread issue – but recent research suggests we might be grossly underestimating the number of iron deficient people. One of the biggest consequences of this deficiency is anaemia, along with a host of knock-on effects throughout the whole body, from our mental health to gut health. Here are the signs to look out for.
Tiredness or fatigue
Fatigue is one of the classic indicators of an iron deficiency, and while it’s also a common symptom for a number of conditions, ranging from autoimmune disorders to depression, but if you haven’t been keeping up on your iron intake, it’s worth getting your blood levels tested. This is because, without adequate iron levels, your body struggles to create haemoglobin – this is the stuff that helps with transporting oxygen around the body. Without sufficient oxygen reaching all parts of our body, we lack much-needed energy and our heart is forced to work harder to get that oxygen where it needs to be – the result? Exhaustion and fatigue. Many of us are tired from juggling work and family responsibilities, but if it’s iron related, you’ll likely also notice you’re feeling weaker and find yourself struggling to focus.
Note: You might even start feeling fatigued before your iron levels dip into deficiency, simply having a lower intake of iron can cause this symptom.
Haemoglobin isn’t just a vital part of keeping our energy levels up and staving off fatigue, it also affects the pallor of our skin, including the lower eyelids. Even our nails and gums may appear paler when we’re iron deficient. This is because the red colour of our red blood cells is provided by the haemoglobin, which in turn affects our skin’s appearance. While paleness is one of the first signs doctors look for with an iron deficiency, it’s important to get your blood tested first. One way to check if something’s amiss is to look in the mirror and lightly pull your lower eyelid down to check if the inside is pale in colour – it should be a bright red colour if your iron stores are up.
Have you noticed you’re having headaches more days than not? It could be a sign of iron deficiency – especially for those who menstruate. This is because researchers believe there is a link between dopamine dysfunction and estrogen levels, and an iron deficiency is known to reduce our dopamine levels and promote abnormal activity with our dopamine receptors, which in turn may affect estrogen levels.
While this symptom is a lot less common than the others on this list, it’s still a key sign you’re not getting enough iron. It affects around 5% of those with an iron deficiency and is usually seen in severe cases – you might also notice spoon-shaped nails as well, where the middle of the nail hollows and the outer edges are higher. So, take a leaf out of Popeye’s book and chow down on some spinach. But that’s not your only source of iron, take a look at some of the exceptional foods to get your dose from:
- Legumes like chickpeas and lentils
- Leafy greens
- Dark chocolate
Tip: Always take iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C to ensure you absorb more of the iron.
A few other signs to look for include:
- Damaged or thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Shortness of breath
- Inflamed tongue
- Cold hands
- Low mood
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