Despite having plenty of sources of iron in the diet, iron deficiency is very common. In fact, iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional disorders. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 80% of the population don’t have enough iron in their bodies. Iron deficiency is one of the most prevalent causes of anemia.
Signs You Have Low Iron Levels
The warning signs that you may have low iron levels are very mild. This is why it tends to go unnoticed until serious side effects occur. Most people don’t even realize they are running low on iron until they go in for a routine blood test. By knowing the signs you have low iron levels, you can actively boost your iron intake naturally to feel the benefits.
Here are eight signs you may have low iron levels:
- Pale skin
- Brittle nails
- Cold hands and feet
- Shortness of breath
- Headache, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating
- Restless leg syndrome
What is an Iron Deficiency?
When you don’t have enough iron in your body, you become iron deficient. Iron is an important mineral that plays an immense role in your health and well-being. It’s a component of hemoglobin which is the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body. Without enough iron, several bodily functions can be impacted.
Iron has a number of roles in the body including:
- Transports oxygen in the blood
- Promotes healthy pregnancy
- Creates energy from nutrients
- An essential part of blood production
- Maintains a healthy immune system
- Supports normal cognitive function
Your body doesn’t produce iron, so you have to get it from your diet. If your body doesn’t have enough iron, it can’t create enough healthy oxygen-producing red blood cells. Iron deficiency can eventually result in anemia. Anemia is a condition where your blood has lower than normal levels of red blood cells. When you’re not getting enough oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, you can start to feel unusually tired and even short of breath.
Iron is also essential in the production of myoglobin. Myoglobin is a protein found in our muscles that help store oxygen for use whenever we perform physical activities.
Some people are at a risk of developing low levels of iron compared to others. Some causes of iron deficiency include:
- Lack of iron in the diet
- Difficulty in absorbing iron
- Blood loss: women with heavy periods, slow chronic blood loss, or gastrointestinal bleeding
The 8 Signs You Have Low Iron Levels
1. Pale Skin
Pale skin or a pale coloring on the inside of your lower eyelids is a typical sign of iron deficiency. When you have low iron levels, you produce less oxygen-rich red blood cells. As you have less red blood cells flowing through your body, some people find their skin loses its healthy, rosy color. The paleness can be all over the body or in specific areas like gums, inside of the lips, or nails.
Related: Juicing to Improve Skin Health
2. Brittle Nails
Brittle or spoon-shaped nails are another sign to look out for. Although a less common symptom than pale skin, it can still be a symptom of low iron levels. In the beginning stages of iron deficiency, you may notice brittle nails that crack easily. If you have a more chronic iron deficiency, you may experience spoon-shaped nails. When this happens, the middle of the nail starts to dip, and the outside of the nail raises up. This is a more severe side effect of iron deficiency, but still, one to be aware of.
Related: Collagen for Strong Nails
3. Cold Hands and Feet
Another common symptom of low iron levels is feeling cold. In particular, cold hands and feet. Because your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to deliver oxygen, it can result in poor circulation. Some people tend to feel the cold more easily while others feel it more in their hands and feet.
Feeling unusually tired is a very common symptom of low levels of iron and affects over half of those who have an iron deficiency. Again, this happens because there isn’t enough hemoglobin in the body. When your tissues and muscles don’t have enough oxygen, you feel deprived of energy. As well as this, your heart has to work even harder to pump oxygen around your body. You might find you start experiencing an unusually strong heartbeat and heart palpitations.
5. Shortness of Breath
When your muscles can’t get the oxygen they need because there aren’t enough red blood cells in your body, it can make simple tasks much harder. This means that you may experience shortness of breath from things you can usually do easily like walking. Because your body is trying to get more oxygen, your breathing rate increases. This is why shortness of breath is a common symptom to look out for when you’re worried about your iron levels.
If you find yourself short of breath while doing things that normally don’t affect you like climbing the stairs, it may be worth getting your blood levels checked out.
6. Headaches, Dizziness, and Difficulty Concentrating
Signs you have low levels of iron include headaches, feeling dizzy, and difficulty concentrating. A lack of concentration and ability to focus is often linked with low energy. When you feel very tired, it can make you feel cranky and less productive.
A less common sign you have low levels of iron are headaches. If you aren’t getting enough iron, the blood vessels in your brain can end up swelling. This can lead to an increased amount of pressure in your brain. Sometimes these headaches can be accompanied by dizziness or feeling lightheaded. When you don’t have enough iron, oxygen struggles to reach your whole body, including your brain. Although there are a lot of reasons why you might experience headaches or dizziness, an iron deficiency may be the root cause.
Pica is an eating disorder where the individual eats non-food items. Things like hair, dirt, ice, and clay are all considered non-food items. Eating these types of foods would be a sign of pica. If you’re deficient in iron, you may notice you’re having strange cravings for unusual non-food items. This can be a symptom of low iron levels. But you can also experience pica during pregnancy, so it’s one to watch out for.
8. Restless Leg Syndrome
As the name suggests, restless leg syndrome is a condition where you have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. It can also make your legs and feet feel itchy. The exact cause of restless leg syndrome is still relatively unknown. However, it’s thought that about 25% of people with restless leg syndrome have iron-deficiency anemia. Research shows that lower levels of iron result in worse cases of restless leg syndrome.
How to Boost Iron Levels Naturally
While some symptoms like pale skin and low energy are quite common when you have low levels of iron, you may not experience all the symptoms. You won’t fully know until you get a blood test from your healthcare provider.
When it comes to boosting your iron, what you eat has a massive impact. Although eating foods high in iron is important, you also need to focus on eating foods that help to increase your iron absorption. When eating an iron-rich meal, think about foods that are complementary so that you can get the most out of your meal. Good sources of iron include:
- Dark leafy greens
- Tofu, Tempeh, Natto
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
An easy way to aid in iron absorption is to pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C. Foods like kale, broccoli, bell peppers, and cauliflower are high in vitamin C. One study found that iron absorption increased by 67% after taking 100mg of vitamin C. Try pairing iron-rich foods and vitamin C in smoothie recipes like one of the 5 Delicious Green Smoothie Recipes.
There are many things that can impact your iron absorption, even your tea and coffee habit. Tannins, which are found in tea and coffee, can interfere with the absorption of iron. If you’re actively trying to build up your iron stores, try to limit your intake to a few days a week.
Another option is to take an iron supplement. Trace minerals like iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine, molybdenum, and selenium are essential for oxygen transport, growth, development, repair, bone health, cartilage formation, and maintaining cellular membranes. If you have very low levels of iron, a supplement will give you the extra boost you need.
Minerals are elements that are essential for life and optimal health. There are approximately six dozen minerals that are necessary for everything from bones, hair, and nails to enzyme and hormone formation to control of chemical and neurological reactions to regulation of virtually every physiologic function. Watch this video from Dr. Weston to learn about You, Me and Minerals.
Iron is an essential mineral found in every cell in the body. It’s a crucial component of hemoglobin and transports oxygen to every cell, tissue, and muscle. Often when you have low levels of iron, it can leave you feeling tired and run down. By knowing what signs to look out for, you can actively increase your iron intake and absorption naturally.