We will introduce to you the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency and what foods to eat to increase iron levels in your blood cells.
Iron is very important in maintaining many body functions, including the production of hemoglobin, the molecule in your blood that carries oxygen.
Iron is also necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.
Iron from the food you eat is absorbed into the body by the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract; the body only absorbs a small fraction of the iron you ingest.
The iron is then released into the bloodstream, where a protein called transferrin attaches to it and delivers the iron to the liver.
Iron is stored in the liver as ferritin and released as needed to make new red blood cells in the bone marrow.
When red blood cells are no longer able to function (after about 120 days in circulation), they are re-absorbed by the spleen.
Iron from these old cells can also be recycled by the body.
If your body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin, your tissues and muscles won’t get enough oxygen and be able to work effectively. This leads to a condition called anemia.
Although there are different types of anemia, iron-deficiency anemia is the most common worldwide.
Signs and Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
1. Unusual Tiredness
Feeling very tired is one of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency, affecting more than half of those who are deficient.
This happens because your body needs iron to make a protein called hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells.
Hemoglobin helps carry oxygen around the body.
When your body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin, less oxygen reaches your tissues and muscles, depriving them of energy.
Also, your heart has to work harder to move more oxygen-rich blood around your body, which can make you tired.
Since tiredness is often considered a normal part of a busy, modern life, it’s difficult to diagnose iron deficiency with this symptom alone.
However, many people with iron deficiency experience low energy alongside weakness, feeling cranky, difficulty concentrating or poor productivity at work.
Read More: How to Improve Hemoglobin Levels Naturally
Pale skin and pale coloring of the inside of the lower eyelids are other common signs of iron deficiency.
The hemoglobin in red blood cells gives blood its red color, so low levels during iron deficiency make the blood less red.
That’s why skin can lose its healthy, rosy color in people with iron deficiency.
This paleness in people with iron deficiency can appear all over the body, or it can be limited to one area, such as the face, gums, inside of the lips or lower eyelids and even the nails.
This is often one of the first things doctors will look for as a sign of iron deficiency. However, it should be confirmed with a blood test.
Paleness is more commonly seen in moderate or severe cases of anemia.
If you pull your lower eyelid down, the inside layer should be a vibrant red color. If it is a very pale pink or yellow color, this may indicate that you have an iron deficiency.
3. Shortness of Breath
Hemoglobin enables your red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body.
When hemoglobin is low in your body during iron deficiency, oxygen levels will also below.
This means your muscles won’t get enough oxygen to do normal activities, such as walking.
As a result, your breathing rate will increase as your body tries to get more oxygen.
This is why shortness of breath is a common symptom.
If you find yourself out of breath doing normal, daily tasks that you used to find easy, such as walking, climbing stairs or working out, iron deficiency could be to blame.
4. Headaches and Dizziness
Iron deficiency may cause headaches.
This symptom seems to be less common than others and is often coupled with lightheadedness or dizziness.
In iron deficiency, low levels of hemoglobin in red blood cells mean that not enough oxygen can reach the brain.
As a result, blood vessels in the brain can swell, causing pressure and headaches.
Although there are many causes of headaches, frequent, recurrent headaches and dizziness could be a sign of iron deficiency.
5. Heart Palpitations
Noticeable heartbeats, also known as heart palpitations, can be another symptom of iron-deficiency anemia.
Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen around the body.
In iron deficiency, low levels of hemoglobin mean the heart has to work extra hard to carry oxygen.
This can lead to irregular heartbeats or the feeling that your heart is beating abnormally fast.
In extreme cases, it can lead to an enlarged heart, heart murmur or heart failure.
However, these symptoms tend to be a lot less common. You would have to suffer from iron deficiency for a long time to experience them.
6. Dry and Damaged Hair and Skin
Dry and damaged skin and hair can be signs of iron deficiency.
This is because when your body is iron deficient, it directs its limited oxygen to more important functions, such as organs and other bodily tissues.
When skin and hair are deprived of oxygen, it can become dry and weak.
More severe cases of iron deficiency have been linked to hair loss.
It is completely normal for some hair to fall out during everyday washing and brushing, but if you are losing clumps or much more than normal, it may be due to iron deficiency.
7. Swelling and Soreness of the Tongue and Mouth
Sometimes just looking inside or around your mouth can give you an indication of whether you are suffering from iron-deficiency anemia.
Signs include when your tongue becomes swollen, inflamed, pale or strangely smooth.
Low hemoglobin in iron deficiency can cause the tongue to become pale, while lower levels of myoglobin can cause it to become sore, smooth and swollen.
Myoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that supports your muscles, such as the muscle that makes up the tongue.
Iron deficiency can also cause dry mouth, sore red cracks at the corners of the mouth or mouth ulcers.
8. Restless Legs
Iron deficiency has been linked to restless leg syndrome.
Restless leg syndrome is a strong urge to move your legs at rest. It can also cause unpleasant and strange crawling or itchy sensations in the feet and legs.
It is usually worse at night, meaning that sufferers may struggle to get much sleep.
The causes of restless leg syndrome are not fully understood.
However, up to 25% of people with restless leg syndrome are thought to have iron-deficiency anemia, and the lower the iron levels, the worse the symptoms.
9. Brittle or Spoon-Shaped Fingernails
A much less common symptom of iron deficiency is brittle or spoon-shaped fingernails, a condition called koilonychia.
This often starts with brittle nails that chip and crack easily.
In later stages of iron deficiency, spoon-shaped nails can occur where the middle of the nail dips and the edges are raised to give a rounded appearance like a spoon.
However, this is a rare side effect and usually only seen in severe cases of iron-deficiency anemia.
10. Other Potential Signs
There are several other signs that your iron could be low. These tend to be less common and can be linked to many conditions other than iron deficiency.
Other signs of iron-deficiency anemia include:
Strange cravings: A hankering for strange foods or non-food items is called “pica.” It usually involves cravings to eat ice, clay, dirt, chalk or paper and could be a sign of iron deficiency. It can also occur during pregnancy.
Feeling anxious: The lack of oxygen available to body tissues in iron deficiency may cause feelings of anxiety. However, this tends to improve or resolve as iron levels are corrected.
Cold hands and feet: Iron deficiency means less oxygen is being delivered to the hands and feet. Some people may feel the cold more easily in general or have cold hands and feet.
More frequent infections: Because iron is needed for a healthy immune system, lack of it may cause you to catch more illnesses than usual.
If your doctor thinks your iron deficiency may be caused by a lack of iron in your diet, think about consuming more iron-rich foods, such as:
- Meat: beef, pork, or lamb, especially organ meats such as liver
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, and duck, especially liver and dark meat
- Fish, especially shellfish, sardines, and anchovies
- Leafy green members of the cabbage family including broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and collard greens
- Legumes, including lima beans, peas, pinto beans, and black-eyed peas
- Iron-enriched pasta, grains, rice, and cereals
Conclusion: These signs and symptoms of iron deficiency can be an alarm to check your iron levels. Consult with your doctor and make some tests for iron levels in your blood.
The best way to prevent iron deficiency is to eat healthy foods rich with iron.