Could You Be Iron Deficient? 12 Signs Of Low Iron To Watch For

signs of low iron

Iron is the mineral that forms the haemoglobin part of our red blood cells, so it’s absolutely critical for oxygen-transportation around the body.  When iron is in short supply the production of red blood cells and haemoglobin can be reduced and that can lead to the condition we know as anaemia.

Iron is also needed for energy production, proper muscle and brain function, as well as healthy pregnancy.  So it’s a pretty critical nutrient!

Interestingly iron deficiency is thought to be the most common nutritional deficiency in the US [1], so it’s definitely worth getting savvy about signs of low iron and making sure there’s plenty of it in your diet.  You should particularly pay attention if you’re in one of the higher risk groups for iron deficiency, which I discuss below…

9 Signs Of Low Iron To Watch For

1  Exhaustion

We’re not talking about feeling tired after a hard day at work, this is chronic and continuous exhaustion which seems to have no obvious cause.  Yes, exhaustion can be caused by many things, but coupled with some of these other signs, it can point to an iron deficiency.  After all, anaemia’s other name is ‘tired blood’.

2  Getting Out Of Breath Easily

When your red cells are low in haemoglobin and can’t carry as much oxygen, you’re going to get out of breath more quickly and easily. You might notice a change just nipping upstairs or find you tire more easily on your routine workout.

3  Pounding Heart

If you’re low in iron, your heart may have to beat harder to get your body properly oxygenated.  This may feel like very strong pounding, a fast heartbeat or palpitations.

4  Looking Pale

One of the most well-known signs of low iron, a person who looks wan and pasty may have low haemoglobin and anaemia.  Also check gums, lips and the inside of your lower eyelid for a lack of redness.

5  Weird Food Cravings

Cravings for strange things like dirt, paper chalk, clay and especially ice, may be an indication that you are iron deficient.

6  Swollen Or Sore Tongue

As well as haemoglobin, low iron can also effect the formation of the muscle protein myoglobin.  In terms of your tongue, this can show up as inflammation, soreness and an oddly smooth appearance.

7  Hair Loss

When your body is low in iron, it tends to put less effort into non-essentials like hair production, so the iron-deficient person may find themselves losing more hair than normal.

8  Brittle Nails

And the same goes for your nails.  The nails of the iron-deficient person might be slightly concave in shape, as well as weak, brittle or cracked.

9  Feeling Weak Or Dizzy

This is another of the signs of low iron related to low levels of haemoglobin in the blood.  Without enough oxygen getting to your brain and muscles, you may have sensations of dizziness and weakness.

10  Feeling Very Anxious For No Obvious Reason

A surprising side effect of having low oxygen in your blood is that your sympathetic nervous system can get ramped-up and you may well feel more anxious and edgy because of it.

11  Restless Legs

It’s true that restless leg syndrome can be associated with magnesium deficiency, but it’s also one of the signs of low iron.  This is due to iron’s involvement in healthy muscle function.

12  Headaches

Without enough oxygen getting to your brain, you’ll likely feel headachey and have poor concentration, as the blood vessels in your brain dilate to compensate.

Factors That Might Put You At Higher Risk Of Iron Deficiency

There are a number of biological and lifestyle factors which can potentially increase your risk of being iron deficient:

  • You Suffer From Heavy Periods (Menorrhagia) – For women, this is the leading cause of iron anaemia.  If you’re a lady who has heavy periods, then you’re more at risk of being low in iron because of your higher monthly blood loss.  (As a rough guide, a heavy period would be one in which you’re having to change a tampon more than once every 2 hours.)
  • You have Celiac disease / IBD / or other gastrointestinal disorder – If your gut isn’t working as it should, you may have trouble absorbing iron.
  • You have an underactive thyroid – Being iron deficient can lower the function of your thyroid gland and reduce it’s effects on your metabolism.
  • You eat a poor quality diet generally – if your standard diet is processed foods, ready-meals and takeaways with little or no fresh veg or other natural sources of iron, then you’re more likely to be iron deficient.
  • You’re a vegetarian who doesn’t eat veggie food sources of iron.
  • You’re a frequent blood donor – one of the quickest ways to lower your iron levels is to give blood.
  • You’re pregnant – babies can use use up mum’s bodily supplies of iron, and childbirth too can lead to significant blood loss.

What To Do If You’re Concerned You Have Signs Of Low Iron

If you have several of these signs of low iron and alarm bells are ringing, don’t worry!  There are a number of simple ways you can go about getting it sorted –

  • Get your iron levels checked.  Pop to your doc or healthcare provider, explain your concerns and ask for a ferritin test to check your iron levels.  Another option is to get blood tests arranged privately with reputable pathologists, such as Blue Horizon Medicals in the UK.
  • Fill your face with more iron-rich foods.  There are a good selection of foods to choose from, such as oysters, liver, grass-fed beef, spinach, lentils, white beans and black beans, sardines, pistachios, raisins and dark chocolate.
  • Invest in some spirulina.  Spirulina is a nutrient-dense blue-green algae which comes in powdered form.  It’s super-high in iron, containing about 8mg per ounce. And it’s also a fab iron source for vegetarians.
    Just add a scoop to smoothies and juices to get it down.
  • Take a vitamin C supplement.  Vitamin C increases iron absorption in your body, so taking a vitamin C supplement will boost your levels of both nutrients.
  • If you’re sure your iron levels are low you can supplement with an iron supplement such as Solgar Gentle Iron.  As an example, adult women aged between 19-50 need about 18mg a day.  But people choosing to supplement iron should always keep tabs on their ferritin levels to ensure they don’t overdose.  Pregnant women need about 27mg a day, but should never take a supplement, just go for dietary sources only.  And finally, never give an iron supplement to children.

What are your experiences of iron and iron deficiency?  Have you experienced any symptoms that aren’t on my list?  Please get in touch in the comments! x

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