This Nutrient Deficiency Can Contribute to Low Energy Levels
By Cherilyn Cecchini, MD
Are you feeling more tired than usual?
Have you been experiencing increased feelings of fatigue? Do you feel exhausted more than usual and are you wondering if there could be an underlying reason? Many of us are facing hectic schedules and multitasking on a regular basis, which we often blame for our feelings of tiredness. There may be another explanation, though. In fact, iron deficiency may be the culprit. That’s right: iron may be the reason you are suddenly unable to keep your eyes open during what you’ve come to call the “afternoon slump.”
What does iron have to do with health?
Iron is a mineral that is critical in maintaining many of your body’s normal functions, including the production of hemoglobin, which is the protein that carries oxygen in your blood and delivers it to your body’s tissues from the lungs. Iron provides this protein, hemoglobin, with the strength to carry oxygen in the blood. Oxygen is very important in providing adequate energy to the cells and tissues throughout the body, and decreased oxygen levels lead to fatigue. Iron also contributes to skin, hair and nail health.
Are you at risk of iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency is extremely common and is often seen in women, especially menstruating women, particularly if periods are heavy. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or those who are postpartum are also at increased risk of iron deficiency. Certain inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, may also put you at increased risk of iron deficiency. Vegetarians, vegans and others who do not consume iron-rich foods may also have lower levels of iron. Children who drink more than 24 ounces of cow’s milk on a regular basis are also at very high risk of iron deficiency.
What are the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency?
Symptoms of iron deficiency include unexplained fatigue or lack of energy, shortness of breath, generalized weakness and rapid heartbeat. Or you may notice that your nails are brittle and your hair seems thinner or is falling out. If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, you should report to your physician and he or she can perform blood work to measure your iron levels and other blood counts that are helpful in diagnosing iron deficiency.
What should you do if you are diagnosed with iron deficiency?
If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency, your doctor may recommend beginning iron supplementation. It is recommended that iron supplementation be taken with food or liquids high in vitamin C, such as orange juice. Vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron to ensure that you are receiving the total recommended dose. It is important to continue regularly visiting your physician so he or she can closely monitor your progress and periodically remeasure your iron levels and other blood markers. Once your iron levels are restored and you no longer require supplementation, be sure to remember to maintain a diet rich in iron to ensure that you maintain your levels and no longer face feelings of fatigue or unexplained tiredness! Iron-rich foods include leafy greens like spinach, beans and lentils, baked potatoes and meats.