Tired? You Might Have Low Iron

By Joan Haynes, ND

Fatigue can have many causes, but a fairly easy cause to figure out and treat involves iron. Iron deficiency is an under-recognized cause of fatigue and can be missed on standard lab work.

Symptoms which may be linked to iron depletion are:

  • Fatigue
  • Poor work productivity
  • Poor attention and memory
  • Sore tongue
  • Poor condition of skin or nails
  • Hair loss
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Cracks on the corners of mouth
  • Pica – cravings for non-foods such as ice or even dirt

Iron does some important things in the body:

  • Carries oxygen to tissues
  • Needed in the mitochondria which makes energy
  • Helps synthesis of thyroid hormone
  • Converts tyrosine to dopamine (one of our feel good neurotransmitters)
  • Important in immune function

Testing

Most clinics order a CBC (Complete Blood Count) which will pick up the advanced form of iron deficiency anemia with a low hematocrit and/or hemoglobin (the color and volume of your red blood cells). But an earlier form of low iron levels can be detected with a serum ferritin test. The “normal” range for serum ferritin is broad, from 8 – 250 ng/mL, but hair loss, fatigue and other symptoms can occur when the number gets below 90.

Uncover the Cause of the Low Iron

Besides just identifying the problem, we need to discover and address the causes of the iron deficiency. It could be the patient just doesn’t eat enough iron-rich foods, but it could be something more serious. For example: heavy menstrual bleeding, low stomach acid, celiac disease, low B-12 and folate levels, hidden bleeding in the colon (a potential sign of colon cancer), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), chronic disease, inflammation, high lead levels and more.

Iron Supplements

Many people complain about gastrointestinal symptoms when taking supplemental iron, usually the ferrous sulfate form. But there are easier forms to absorb. At Boise Natural Health Clinic we use iron bis-glycinate with Vitamin C, between meals. It can take months for iron levels to come back up.

Iron absorption is inhibited by:

Low stomach acid, acid blocking medication, H. pylori infection, coffee, tea, soy products, wheat bran, wheat gluten, oat, nuts, casein, egg white, whey protein, some herbal teas.

Iron absorption is enhanced by:

Hydrochloric acid and vitamin C

Caution is advised with iron supplementation can be toxic, it is the leading cause of poisoning in children. In general, men and non-menstruating women should not take iron supplements or even a multi with iron in it unless they test low.

If you are suffering with any of the above symptoms, come in for a visit with and we’ll do a thorough health history and run labs to discover if iron deficiency, or something else, could be contributing to you not feeling well.