You may not think that constant tiredness or weakness may be from iron deficiency, but these are common symptoms.
Iron comes from specific things you eat, and if you don’t get enough of these iron-fortified foods, you could be missing out on a key part of your diet.
Iron deficiency anemia develops for a number of reasons: 1) you lose more blood and iron than your body can replace, 2) your body is not able to absorb iron very well, 3) you are not eating enough food sources of iron or 4) your body needs more iron than normal. Biological sex, lifestyles, underlying health conditions, and life stages can also make people more prone to iron deficiency. Read on to find out how much iron you should be consuming, the side effects of iron deficiency, and how to get more iron from your diet.
Are you consuming enough iron?
It is important to know how much iron you should consume. The amounts vary between men and women. According to the Cleveland Clinic, men need 8 mg of iron per day and women need 18 mg of iron per day. Women over the age of 50 only need 8 mg of iron, those who are pregnant need 27 mg and those who are breastfeeding need 9 mg per day.
Fortunately, you can get iron from a wide variety of foods. According to the Mayo Clinic, these can include:
- Red meat, poultry and pork
- Beans and peas
- Dark leafy vegetables, such as spinach
- Raisins, apricots and other dried fruits
- Iron-enriched starch such as pasta, bread and cereals
Certain types of people may also be at risk for iron deficiency. If you have your period, you may lose iron due to blood loss. Infants and children can be iron deficient if they don’t get enough breast milk or formula. Children and infants may also need extra iron during growth spurts. If you donate blood frequently, you may need extra iron. Vegetarians and vegans can also be prone to anemia if they don’t look for sources of iron other than meat.
Potential side effects to watch out for
You might be wondering: how do I know if I have an iron deficiency? There are several main symptoms of iron deficiency to watch out for. Some of them look like everyday ailments, like headaches, or side effects can get really weird, like eating clay.
Extreme fatigue or weakness
A common way to tell if you have an iron deficiency is an extreme level of fatigue or weakness. This is because without enough iron, your body does not produce red blood cells properly.
Your blood circulation becomes less efficient at carrying oxygen. If the oxygen is not transported to where it needs to go, you end up feeling very weak and fatigue.
Related to the point above, another problem can be chest pain, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath. It can also result from oxygen not being carried by the bloodstream to where it needs to go as efficiently.
Headaches, dizziness and lightheadedness
Even the brain can receive less oxygen if the body lacks iron. It can cause a number of cognitive impairments, like headaches, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Iron deficiency anemia is even associated with migraines.
Cold hands and feet
If your body doesn’t get enough oxygen, you end up feeling cold. Because iron deficiency affects how the bloodstream transfers oxygen around your body, you may end up with cold hands and feet.
Cravings for non-nutritive items
If things get really bad, you might start craving foods that have no nutritional value and can’t be digested. This condition is called pica. People with pica can eat things like ice, dirt, clay, and paper. Pica is associated with iron deficiency, but no one really knows how the two are related. Iron therapy tends to cure pica behavior.
On the other end of the spectrum, you may find yourself not feeling hungry at all. The reasons for this are also unclear. Some theories suggest it may be linked to certain blood protein and hormone levels.
Your skin might also turn pale or look washed out. A lack of iron can lead to a decrease in the number of red blood cells, which in turn can lead to pale skin.
What is the main cause of iron deficiency?
There are several reasons why you might have an iron deficiency, according to the Mayo Clinic. The most direct cause is simply the lack of iron in your diet. Blood loss from heavy, long, and frequent periods, injury, disease, cancer, gastrointestinal bleeding, or blood donation can also be a culprit. Even nosebleeds can cause iron deficiency. Pregnant women may also be at risk for iron deficiency because more iron is needed to increase blood volume and the fetus. Certain gastrointestinal disorders can also interfere with the ability to absorb iron from the foods you eat.
The Cleveland Clinic also lists rare causes such as certain stomach infections, gastrointestinal surgeries, and genetic conditions.
How to add more iron to your diet
If you think you’re not getting enough iron, you may want to do a blood test with your doctor to see if you have anemia. If so, you can try adding more iron to your diet by:
- Cooking food in cast iron skillets to increase the amount of iron in your food
- Collect recipes containing iron-rich foods
- Snack on nuts and seeds during the day
- Eat whole grains
- Pairing specific vitamin-rich foods with iron-rich foods to help you absorb more iron, such as foods high in vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta-carotene
- Choosing iron-fortified cereals or breads
- Make an iron-rich salad full of plant sources of iron, such as spinach, peas, lentils, white mushrooms, or black olives
Sometimes it can be difficult to get iron-rich foods into our diet, due to issues such as dietary budget constraints or hectic lifestyles. You may want to consider using an oral iron supplement, but be sure to talk to your doctor first. add supplements.
You can also consult our guides on multivitamins for men and supplements to help to gain weight.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.