Iron deficiency hampers our body’s growth, cognitive abilities, and proper functioning of the brain. Low iron level delays the physical development of babies and children.
Chronic deficiency of iron can lead to anemia, coronary disorders (heart diseases), complications in pregnancy and even in recovery after delivery.
Iron deficiency or low iron levels is one of the most common nutritional disorders with nearly 3 billion people or more than 30% of world’s population under its umbrella.
Vegetarians, women, children, and developing countries population constitute the highest number of people suffering from low iron symptoms.
Now, if you are concerned about your nutritional levels, in specifically iron, then this post is for you.
We will look into the Symptoms and Causes of Low Iron Levels. And Natural ways to boost your iron levels.
Understanding Iron Deficiency
Iron is a mineral that plays a vital role in health and well-being. Without it, many bodily functions would malfunction. If your body doesn’t have enough iron, it cannot produce enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Iron deficiency can cause anemia, which means you have too little hemoglobin or healthy blood tissues. This will lead to all kind of health problems in your skin, hair, energy levels and even brain function.
That’s why you should take note of low iron symptoms in the early stages and take remedial actions.
According to National Academy of Sciences, Iron deficiency is defined as “A relative or absolute deficiency of iron which may be due to lower or no absorption of iron from food in the gastrointestinal GI tract, loss of iron due to acute or chronic hemorrhages (bleeding), or lack of iron-rich foods in the diet.”
3 stages of iron deficiency symptoms
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a role in a variety of bodily functions, including the production of hemoglobin, the transportation of oxygen, and the regulation of cell growth. When iron levels are low, these important functions can be impaired, leading to a host of symptoms. Iron deficiency can occur in three stages: mild, moderate, and severe.
- Mild iron deficiency is often asymptomatic, but can occasionally cause fatigue or weakness.
- Moderate iron deficiency can cause more pronounced symptoms, such as lightheadedness, difficulty concentrating, and cold intolerance.
- Severe iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which is a condition characterized by fatigue, paleness, shortness of breath, and an irregular heartbeat.
If left untreated, iron deficiency can have serious consequences. With prompt treatment, however, most people make a full recovery.
How is Iron Deficiency Diagnosed?
Hemoglobin, a protein in the blood cells carries oxygen and helps to circulate it throughout the body. Iron is an essential ingredient of hemoglobin.
That’s why low iron levels in the body lead to low hemoglobin and consequently lack of oxygen supply throughout the body.
A hemoglobin test is most commonly used to test iron levels.
With Hemoglobin concentrations lower than 13 g/dL in men and 12 g/dL in women, anemia is inferred.
What is Anemia?
According to Mayo clinic, Anemia is a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues.
Anemia can happen due to following factors:
- Decrease in the number of red blood cells
- Reduction in the quantity of hemoglobin in the blood, caused by Iron deficiency
- Due to deformities in the haemoglobin structure. It affects their ability to carry oxygen
- Megaloblastic anemia. In this case red blood cells become bigger than their normal size under the affect of Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency
- Hemolytic anemia. It is caused by a genetic or chronic disease like Leukaemia or a bone marrow disorder
Iron Deficiency – Risk Group and Causes
Iron deficiency and low iron levels is one of the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies. High-risk groups include women (adolescent and pregnant) and young children due to either increased body needs or increased loss of blood.
The depletion of iron stores in the body can eventually lead to iron deficiency anemia.
- Young children and pregnant women are at higher risk of low iron symptoms because of rapid growth and higher iron needs.
- Adolescent girls and women of childbearing age are at risk due to heavy bleeding in menstruation.
- Among children, iron deficiency is seen most often between six months and three years of age due to rapid growth and inadequate intake of dietary iron.
What Causes Low Iron Symptoms?
Iron, being an important dietary mineral helps in the transport of oxygen in the blood and other body functions. Low iron symptoms include chronic fatigue, poor quality blood cells and decreased immunity.
Iron deficiency can suck the energy out of your system and create conditions of chronic fatigue and restlessness. Here are some leading causes of low iron symptoms in women:
1. Inadequate dietary intake
There are two types of dietary iron, heme iron, and non-heme iron. The body absorbs heme iron easily than non-heme iron.
There are several reasons for low dietary intake of iron, including a poorly balanced vegetarian diet, chronic fad dieting or limited access to a wide range of fresh foods.
Vegetarians usually suffer from low iron levels as plant-based iron-rich foods and fortified foods primarily contains non-heme iron, which is difficult to absorb.
On the other hand, meat, poultry, and fish contain heme iron that is easy to absorb for the body.
2. Excessive Loss of Blood
Iron deficiency occurs in situations of chronic blood loss. Common causes include:
- heavy menstrual periods
- regular blood donation
- regular nose bleeds
- chronic disorders that involve bleeding and certain medications, particularly aspirin
- stomach conditions such as food allergies and hookworms
3. Increased Need for Iron Intake
The adolescent growth spurt, pregnancy, and breastfeeding are situations when the body requires more iron. Infants and toddlers need more iron than older children because of their rapid growth.
According to WHO, low Iron levels affect 40% of pregnant women. Pregnant women naturally produce about 30% more blood to supply oxygen to the baby.
Low iron levels are particularly common in 2nd and 3rd trimesters when the baby grows faster. Hence, pregnant women are prescribed Iron and folate supplements to prevent health complications.
4. Excessive Exercise
Athletes are prone to iron deficiency because regular exercise increases the body’s need for iron in a number of ways.
For example, hard training promotes red blood cell production, while the iron along with body electrolytes is lost through sweating.
5. Inability to absorb iron
Healthy adults absorb about ten to 15 percent of dietary iron, but some people’s bodies are unable to absorb or use iron from food. Elderly people suffer from low HCl levels in the stomach.
As HCl helps in the separation of metal ions from food and further their absorption in the body, hence low HCl levels in the stomach can cause low iron symptoms.
6. Excessive caffeine
Polyphenols present in foods such as tea and coffee can decrease the amount of non-heme iron absorbed from a meal.
7. Vitamin B12 Deficiency or Folate Deficiency
The vitamins B12 and folate participate in the production of red blood cells. That’s why low levels of B12 or folate can directly contribute to Iow iron symptoms.
Low Iron Symptoms
Identification of low iron symptoms is the first step towards addressing the issue. More often than not, our body is not able to absorb sufficient iron per its increased needs or sometimes even cover the basic needs.
Some of the most common Iron deficiency symptoms are reflected with health issues such as fatigue, restlessness, and unnecessary anxiety.
1. Chronic Fatigue and Weakness
One of the most common symptoms and yet one of the most difficult to detect. Iron deficiency causes less oxygen to reach your tissues, so your body cells are deprived of the oxygen they need.
Without sufficient oxygen, your body cells can’t break down food and make energy. This makes you feel tired and unable to carry out daily tasks.
2. Stress and Anxiety
If the oxygen levels are low, no matter how deeply you breathe, you would be out of air.
If normal activities like climbing a flight of stairs, make you lose breath, iron deficiency is the one to blame.
4. Chest Pain and palpitations
Iron deficiency causes the oxygen levels to drop. As a result, the heart tries to pump more blood. This results in an over-worked up heart, causing chest pain, irregular heartbeat and palpitations.
Get your cardio checks done regularly to identify health problems and take immediate medical actions.
5. Restless leg syndrome
Can’t stop fidgeting? A prominent sign of restless leg syndrome. The lower the iron levels, the worse the symptoms.
Low iron and magnesium levels can often lead to restlessness in lower legs. You may have a strong to move your legs, especially when lying down. This can also make it hard to fall asleep at night, leading to sleep disorders.
6. You crave clay, dirt and ice
PICA, craving for non-food substances can be a sign of iron deficiency. Iron-deficient people may be tempted to chow down on chalk, clay, dirt, ice and paper.
It may be to reduce the level of inflammation caused by low iron levels or to find sources of Iron around you.
7. Heavy Periods
This is because, if you loose too much blood too often, you will naturally have too low iron levels. Also, low iron levels often trigger hypothyroidism in women. And with hypothyroidism, your hormones are disturbed. This starts a cycle of heavy bleeding and low iron symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness and hormone imbalance.
8. Pale Skin and Dryness
Low iron levels in the blood are widely reflected on the color and texture of your skin. It becomes dry and pale in color. This is because, low iron means low blood levels and poor circulation due to tired heart.
And when you have poor circulation, then sufficient blood and nutrients do not reach to your skin tissues. This leaves them dry and pale. With severe anemia, the skin can even look almost gray.
9. Frequent Headaches and Dizziness
10. Cold Hands and Feet
This low iron symptom is also due to poor circulation and low blood levels. Now, you may know that blood carries heat (energy) and nutrients to the body. So, when you have poor circulation and low hemoglobin then you end experiencing lower body temperature.
This is even more for the extremities such as hands and feet.
11. Brittle Nails, Dandruff and Hair fall
According to Ayurveda, nails and hair are the sub tissues that are generated when bones and blood tissues are generated.
Now when you have low iron levels, poor quality blood tissues and poor circulation, the quality of your sub tissues is also affected. Often women struggle with symptoms such as:
- excessive dandruff (dryness of scalp)
- split hair (poor quality hair)
- excess hair fall (weak hair)
- brittle nails (weak and poor quality nails)
How to Naturally Boost your Iron Level?
When looking at ways to increase iron level, then one needs to focus on increasing both iron intake and iron absorption in the body.
In general, a diet that includes iron-rich foods is recommended. A balanced and iron-rich diet regime including fruits and vegetables, meat, and citrus products is good. These foods help your body to absorb iron better.
At any time naturally occurring foods or an iron-rich diet is a much better source of iron over synthetic supplements.
On the other hand, nature has provided a balanced state of nutrients in both plant and animal based sources leading to no peripheral impact and much better absorption of nutrients.
1. Increase Your Intake of Iron-rich Foods
Here are some iron-rich foods that you can incorporate on your diet on regular basis to upkeep with your iron level requirements.
It contains calcium, iron, Vitamins A, Vitamin C, and folic acid. It is also a very good source of fibre, manganese, and potassium. Betacyanin is the pigment that gives beetroot its colour and has powerful antioxidant properties.
2. Dark green leafy vegetables
Leafy greens such as moringa oleifera (drumstick leaves), curry leaves, collard greens, kale and spinach are good sources of iron.
All these vegetables are packed with vitamins A, Vitamin C and Vitamin K, folate, Iron and fiber.
3. Nuts and Dry Fruits
They are full of protein and are a good source of healthy fats, iron and anti-oxidants.
Cashews help the body utilize iron, eliminate free radicals, develop bone and connective tissue, and produce the skin and hair pigment melanin.
Also dry fruits such as raisins, prunes and dates are excellent sources of non-heme iron along with Vitamin C.
Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cocoa seeds, have much higher iron content per gram basis when compared across a realm of foods.
Regular intake of seeds either with meals or as snacks can help to replenish not only iron but other vital minerals too.
Here’s a delicious recipe of energy balls that contains iron rich foods to up your iron levels.
Moringa Choco Bites | Energy Balls made with Seeds and Herbs
Moringa Choco Bites makes for a delicious, easy, and super nutritious energy balls. These are super snack bites that are great to boost your nutrition and energy levels and cover up the late afternoon slump.
- Grinder or Food Processor to make powder
- Heavy Bottom Pan for roasting the ingredients
- ½ cup Rolled Oats (Replace rolled oats with roasted black gram (chana daal), amaranth, or any other millets such as ragi)
- ½ cup Quinoa (Replace quinoa with any of the above ingredients or with rolled oats.)
- ½ cup Pumpkin Seeds (Replace pumpkin seeds with watermelon seeds or almonds or any other nut of your choice)
- 2 tbsp Sesame Seeds (Replace with flax seeds)
- 2 tsp Cinnamon Powder
- 1 tsp Cardamom Powder
- 1 tsp Nutmeg Powder
- 2 tbsp Raw Cocoa Powder
- 1 cup Dates (Replace dates with figs or any other dried fruit)
- 1 tbsp Moringa Leaves Powder
- 2-3 tbsp Coconut Oil (Replace with Sesame Oil or Ghee or any other pure sweet tasting oil)
Preparing the Ingredients
First dry roast the quinoa and oats in the pan on medium heat. Keep stirring in the middle, otherwise oats get burnt very quickly. This holds true for any other grains or beans that you may replace it with.
Once roasted, put the oats in a wide mouth container and let it cool down. Keep aside.
Now dry roast sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. Keep stirring in between. Once, they turn golden, turn off the heat and keep the seeds aside till they cool down.
Now grind the oats and seeds to make fine flour.
Preparing the dates
Separate the seeds from the dates and finely chop them.
Mix them well to make a paste like consistency. You can do this with the help of food processor as well.
Preparing the Energy Balls
Heat the coconut oil in the pan. Add all the dry powders, spices, and herbs and mix well on low heat for about 2-3 mins.
Now add the dates paste. Mix well again. This step might be a little tough and you will have to use little muscular strength 🙂
Now, roll the mix into small 1 inch balls each.
There you go. Your energy balls are ready!
- Plug and play with different ingredients such as grains and dry roasted beans to make the base.
- If dates aren’t too sweet and pulpy, then you can add 3-4 tbsp jaggery powder with 1 tbsp water. Water should be heated first and then jaggery powder be mixed. After this add coconut oil and other dry powders.
- For flavours, try different spices and herbs to make your favourite recipe.
Beans and lentils are high in iron, zinc, calcium, as well as an excellent source of protein for vegetarians. Hence, legumes and beans are considered a good replacement for red meat.
6. The liver
Liver is the main storage site of iron, hence consuming animal liver could help in acute cases of anemia and related health conditions.
2. Eating Right to Boost Your Iron Levels | Proper Food Combining
Apart from intake of iron rich foods, you should also focus on the factors that would increase iron absorption. Also, you should avoid food combinations that suppress iron absorption.
1. Avoid Wrong Food Combinations
- Caffeine in the form of coffee and tea greatly reduces iron absorption. That’s why you should wait for 1-2 hours before and after your meals to take in these beverages. Do not combine caffeine with your meals.
- Also, foods rich in fiber and polyphenols also suppress iron absorption. So, you should avoid combining them with iron rich foods. Instead consume them at different times of the day.
- Similarly, Calcium can also decrease the amount of heme-iron absorbed from a meal. That’s why you should avoid combining calcium rich foods such as dairy with iron rich foods such as vegetables and greens.
2. Do not donate Blood when you have Anemia
If you are struggling with low iron symptoms, then you should avoid blood donation as it will further lower iron levels in the body.
3. Do not take Antacids
Stop or reduce taking antacids as they will further suppress iron absorption by reducing the acidity levels of the stomach.
This is because antacids greatly reduce HCL levels in the stomach. Since HCL is required to absorb Iron from the food, you end up struggling with poor iron availability.
4. Combine Vitamin C Foods with Iron rich Foods
Vitamin C is well revered to boost the absorption of non-heme iron.. That’s why combining iron rich foods with Vitamin C rich foods is an excellent step to ensure higher bio availability of iron and to boost your levels naturally.
For example, take a glass of orange/berry juice, Amla juice/dry Amla, curry leaves, moringa leaves with your legumes would be great for vegetarians.
5. Cook in Cast Iron Ware
Cooking in cast iron ware can greatly enhance the iron levels in the meals you are preparing. However, do note that you shouldn’t cook sour curries and foods in cast iron ware as it can increase toxicity in the food. Always try to make stir-fries and other non-sour, preferably drier foods in cast iron ware.
6. Take in Sufficient Proteins in Your Diet
Hemoglobin is a protein, whose main ingredient is iron. That’s why sufficient intake of good quality proteins is necessary to maintain healthy hemoglobin levels.
Make sure that proteins are prepared in an easy to digest manner and that you are not going too big on proteins either. This is because, most of the protein rich foods are heavy and hard to digest. They slow down our digestive fire, which can further trigger poor metabolism and nutritional deficiencies.
Now we want to hear from you. What do you do to boost your iron levels? Which ways do you find most effective?
Do write to us for any queries and feedback. We will get back to you the soonest.
Wishing you vibrant health!
1. What happens when a woman’s iron is low?
When a woman’s iron is low, it can cause fatigue, pale skin, and shortness of breath. Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the cells. Without enough iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin, resulting in anemia. Anemia can cause fatigue because the body doesn’t have enough oxygen to function properly. The lack of oxygen can also cause pale skin and shortness of breath. If left untreated, anemia can lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease and organ damage. Fortunately, iron deficiency is easily treatable with supplements or by increasing iron-rich foods in the diet.
- Iron Deficiency Anemia Symptoms and Causes
- An Overview: Iron deficiency anemia
- Iron deficiency in women: assessment, causes and consequences