Low iron could be part of the root cause of your fatigue. It could be a matter of absorption, health of the red blood cell, or compounding factors like thyroid, poor sleep, and related heart issues. There is preliminary evidence that iron supplementation might improve unexplained fatigue in non-anemic women. Low iron is one of the top reasons for fatigue, but it is not the only reason. Dr. Laura M. Brown ND can help you dig into the root cause of your fatigue.
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Who is at Risk?
- menstruating women
- vegan and vegetarians
- high performance athletes
- those with Celiac, gluten sensitivity, Crohn’s or colitis
- long term use of proton pump inhibitors
- H.Pylori infection
- internal bleeding of any kind
Food Sources of Iron
Food Sources: meats of all kinds, liver and organ meats (animal sources best absorbed), kelp, legumes, tofu, whole grains, molasses, nuts and seeds, wheat, millet, dark leafy greens, sardines, prune juice and oysters.
Iron absorption depends on proper stomach acid and the ability for the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to absorb. The body will only absorb what iron it needs, and pass the rest along in the stool. Animal based heme (iron) is best absorbed. Vegetable based iron sources are absorbed at a fraction of animal based sources. If there are stomach acid issues, like an H.Pylori infection or prolonged use of Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s), or issues with the GI lining like in Celiac, Crohn’s or Colitis, then absorption of iron and other vital nutrients may be impaired.
Your iron could be low if you have these symptoms:
Dizziness, especially on rising quickly
Shortness of breath on exertion, chest pain
Coldness in your hands and feet
Pale skin, tongue, conjunctiva
Swelling or sore tongue, cracks at side mouth
Enlarged spleen, frequent infections
Why do I feel this way?
Iron is also a cofactor in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This is why low iron has the potential to contribute to low mood.
Iron deficiency may affect selenium absorption, which could then affect thyroid hormone production. Low thyroid function can can contribute to a state of fatigue.
Iron deficiency can also cause restless legs, contributing to poor sleep, which means less healing in sleep, more hormonal imbalance and compounded issues of fatigue.
If you don’t have enough hemoglobin-carrying red blood cells, your heart has to work harder to move oxygen-rich blood through your body. This can lead to arrhythmias, murmur, enlarged heart, or even heart failure.
Iron is used to make the hemoglobin complex on the red blood cells.
If your red blood cells are breaking down or not enough are made, you will not have the ability to use the iron to make the hemoglobin.
There are four “parking spots” for Oxygen and carbon dioxide on your red blood cells – this is the iron binding capacity or “TIBC” you see on your blood work.
When the TIBC is high you iron might be low.
Sometimes serum iron is fine but the ferritin is high. The body squirrels away iron when there is an infection. This is because virus and bacteria use iron to help replicate. What a smart body we have! Inflammatory factors of infection and low iron contributes to fatigue.
Diagnosing Low Iron
Clinical presentation (your signs and symptoms) are the first clue to low iron. A simple blood test including a CBC and Iron Panel will help dig into the root cause of your fatigue. Further exploration and tests may be required to diagnose other contributing factors of health as mentioned above. A naturopathic doctor is always on the look out for the true root cause of your health concerns.
CBC – complete blood count
Number, size of red blood cells (RBC) (iron def. anemia red blood cells are smaller than normal)
Number, size of white blood cells
Number of platelets
Reticulocyte count – immature RBC – tells if bone marrow production rate of RBCs is normal
Hemoglobin- iron rich protein on your red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues and carbon dioxide away
Hematocrit – measures how much space your red blood cells take up in your blood
Serum iron – amount of iron in your blood. Not always indicative of the total amount of iron in your body.
Serum ferritin – think tin is something you store things in– this is your iron storage.
Transferrin – trans for transfer – this protein carries iron in your blood
TIBC – measures how much of the transferrin is around and not carrying any iron
Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND