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Signs You Have An Iron Deficiency (Anemia)

By Rachael Attard, Updated Sep 27, 2017
iron deficiency

Iron deficiency, also known as anemia, is the most common widespread nutrient deficiency in the world, and is much more common in women. Last year, 15.3 % of women in Australia, aged between 18-30, were recorded as being anemic. In America in 2008, over 30% of the population was recorded as being iron deficient, and unfortunately, research suggests that this number is on the rise!

Why Do We Need Iron?

Some of the main roles of iron include:

  • Transportation of oxygen in the blood
  • The production of red blood cells – This process takes about 7 days from start to finish, yet is constantly happening within your body.
  • Conversion of blood sugar to energy – Without sufficient iron levels, your body will struggle to produce metabolic energy, which is why people who are anemic often feel tired and weak.
  • The production of enzymes – These enzymes play a leading role in the production of hormones, neurotransmitters, amino acids as well as the production of new cells.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

Many symptoms of iron deficiency can be overlooked initially. However, once anemia has developed, symptoms can become more severe.

Symptoms can include:

  • Extreme fatigue and exhaustion
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Pale skin and gums
  • Brittle nails
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Swollen tongue
  • Rapid heart rate and heart palpitations

iron deficiency

What Causes Iron Deficiency?

Women are more prone to iron deficiency due to several physical changes (sometimes ongoing) that occur in our lives. These changes either increase the need for iron due to blood loss (due to menstruation) or other physical changes that require more iron.

These changes include:

  • Puberty – Girls reaching puberty often experience a significant drop in iron levels, due to the onset of menstruation, as well as rapid growth spurts and hormonal changes. This is why doctors often recommend increasing iron in the diet or supplementing at this period in development.
  • Menstruation – Due to blood loss, women’s iron levels will drop significantly during menstruation, which is why we should be mindful of this and adjust our diet accordingly. Though you may have noticed that your body lets you know that you need more iron, by craving red meat, or dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Pregnancy – Because of the increased demand for blood, as well as the growth of a fetus into a baby, pregnant women have a much greater need for iron and are at higher risk of becoming anemic.
  • Breastfeeding – Because breastfeeding mothers are transferring a large portion of the nutrients they ingest into the milk they provide for their young, it is even more important for them to make sure their iron levels are not dropping.

Other ways in which you can become depleted in your iron levels include:

  • Significant blood loss;
  • Inability to absorb iron (some people struggle absorbing iron more than others); and
  • Poor diet.

How To Treat Iron Deficiency

So how can you make sure that you keep your iron levels up naturally? By eating a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in natural sources of iron.

Contrary to what many people believe, red meat is not the only source of iron. There are many foods you can enjoy, whilst making sure you are getting that much-needed iron boost!

Some iron-rich foods include:

  • Lean red meat
  • Beef and chicken liver
  • Seafood
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale
  • Fortified grains

Vitamin C is essential for iron absorption. To ensure you are able to absorb the iron you are eating, you also need to make sure that you are getting enough vitamin C in your diet. Here is a list of foods high in Vitamin C.iron deficiency

The bottom line

Iron deficiency is quite common in women, and the symptoms can often go unnoticed until it becomes more serious.

The good news is that having your iron levels checked is a relatively quick and painless procedure. All it requires is a simple blood test, that you can organize through your GP.

If the blood tests show that you are anemic, then restoring your iron levels is quite simple. You may just need to reassess your diet, take some iron (and/or Vitamin C) supplements, or for those of you that struggle absorbing iron, you may require an iron injection.

So don’t put it off. If you are concerned that you might be anemic, or you would like to reassure yourself that your levels are fine, talk to your GP and ask about having your iron levels checked.

Picture of Rachael

Rachael is an Australian born certified personal trainer and nutritionist who holds a Bachelor degree in Science.

After struggling for years to find an exercise and diet program that is tailored to women striving for lean and toned body with no bulk she designed her Lean Legs Program. This program is tailored to each body type and focused on helping women get toned but feminine bodies, without getting bulky.

Her mission is to empower women and help them stay in shape in a healthy and balanced way.

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