One of the most common deficiencies in women in the world, a lack of iron can lead to a series of side effects and if untreated, to more serious health complications. Iron is important for producing haemoglobin, a protein that helps red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout your body. Without it, everything suffers, and it could lead to anaemia.
Do you have an iron deficiency?
Here are 10 signs that you may have an iron deficiency. These signs can be helpful, but in no way are a direct diagnosis and its always best to consult a healthcare professional. If you have more than a few of these symptoms, it may be cause to request a blood test from your doctor.
The most common symptom of iron deficiency is fatigue, and it is one that is often dismissed by busy working women or mums, who put their tiredness down to their busy lives. If your fatigue comes with a side of feeling irritable, weak, or unable to focus, it could mean you are lacking in iron.
2. Heavy Periods
The number one cause of iron deficiency in women is heavy periods. According to experts, your period should only fill two to three tablespoons each month. As a general rule of thumb, if you need to change your tampon more than every two hours, chat to your GP or gynaecologist.
3. Pale Skin
Iron is important for producing haemoglobin, a protein that helps red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout your body. Haemoglobin is responsible for giving your blood and skin its red hue. When you are low in the protein, your skin can lack its rosiness. While it’s easier to spot on pale-skinned people, a lack of colour may be tricky to identify on olive or dark-skinned people. Another place to look, regardless of skin tone, is inside lips, gums and the inside your eyelids. If these aren’t as red as usual, chat to your doctor.
4. Persistent Headaches
According to the US National Headache Foundation, an iron-deficient body will prioritise getting oxygen to the brain before it worries about blood getting elsewhere. This can lead to headaches caused by the brain’s arteries swelling. If those pesky headaches aren’t going away, it could mean you are lacking in iron.
5. Short of Breath
If you find yourself out of breath while doing things that wouldn’t usually leave you feeling so (walking to the bus stop, climbing the stairs at home), your oxygen may be low, and a deficiency in iron may be the culprit.
6. Racing Heart
A lack of oxygen can send your body’s nervous system into acceleration mode, meaning a racing heart could also be on the cards. If you’re prone to feeling stressed and anxious on the best of days, but finding your symptoms to be heightened of late, pay attention to them – they could be trying to tell you something more.
7. Restless Legs
Can’t stop fidgeting? According to John Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, roughly 15% of people with restless leg syndrome also have an iron deficiency. Often, the lower the iron levels, the worse the symptoms.
8. Losing Hair
While a lack of any number of vitamins or minerals could also be the culprit, iron deficiency – particularly when it has escalated to anaemia – can lead to hair loss. This is because it sends your body into “survival mode”, which includes channelling oxygen to support your vitals rather than promoting things like hair growth. While most people will lose about 100 hairs a day, any more than this may be cause for a check up.
9. Unusual Cravings
Otherwise known as ‘pica’, craving (and sometimes eating) non-food substances can be a sign of an iron deficiency. The types of things that iron-deficient people may be tempted to chew on include clay, chalk dirt, ice and paper.
10. Lack of Red Meat
Don’t eat meat? The recent popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets have led to a spike in iron-deficiency numbers in the western world. While the two are not always simpatico, if you do follow an animal-free diet, you are at a higher risk of being deficient in iron, due to the fact that our bodies absorb heme iron (which comes from meat) two to three times better than non-heme irons (the type found in leafy greens and legumes). If you don’t have a taste for fish or meat, be sure to stock up on these foods, and team them with vitamin-C rich ones like berries, citrus, broccoli and capsicum.
Try These Six Foods To Combat Iron Deficiency
Egg Yolks: An egg is full of many nutrients, including iron. Eggs are best consumed in their entirety as the yolk contains both forms of iron, haem and non-haem. Yet another reason why a boiled egg in the morning is a great start to the day.
Legumes: From soybeans to lentils and black beans, legumes are a valuable vegetarian-friendly source of iron. Combine vitamin C-rich vegetables, such as capsicum, with a whole grain and a legume to make a complete meal.
Prunes: These nutrient-rich fruits are a great source of iron, while also containing good levels of vitamin C. Prunes make an excellent choice when treating low iron levels. Enjoy with breakfast or during the day as a sweet treat.
Silverbeet: A vegetarian’s friend when it comes to iron supplies. To ensure maximum iron absorption, either boil or saute and add a squeeze of lemon for vitamin C. To increase the iron levels of the meal, combine with wholegrains and enjoy.
Oysters & Mussels: These are both great sources of iron, with mussels also providing valuable amounts of B12 and selenium, and oysters providing good levels of zinc as well. Swap your poultry dish for a delicious seafood alternative.
Lean red meat, especially beef: Probably the most common source of iron, red meat provides haem iron that is easily absorbed by the body. It is important to choose good-quality meat and only eat a portion the size of your palm.
Read More: Learn how widespread iron deficiency is