Iron Deficiency—Know Its Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

This article written for and published in Consumer Health Digest (10/07/17)

Iron Deficiency

Editor’s Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
Did you know that iron deficiency anemia affects more people than any other condition?[1] For some of you that may be surprising, given the fact that many people aren’t aware of the health concern and what it involves.

I was one of these people, until I was diagnosed with it myself a few years ago. The symptoms can be mild to severe and they usually develop over a period of time.

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize they have an iron deficiency and may attribute their troubles to something else (such as stress, a hormonal imbalance, another malady or just daily living).

With an estimated 1.6 billion people globally suffering from iron deficiency anemia, it is important to be aware of the problem, the cause, the symptoms and treatment.[2]

What Is Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition where your blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. It typically is caused by an insufficient amount of iron in the body. This can result from numerous causes including lack of iron in your diet, iron absorption issues, or blood loss in the body from an ulcer, polyp, cancer or some other illness.

It can also be caused by heavy periods in women, especially during perimenopause. Without enough iron, the body can’t produce* hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen throughout the body and a multitude of symptoms can occur.[3]

Iron stores in the body, measured by your ferritin level (a protein in your blood) can also become depleted; leaving you feeling tired all of the time and operating at a low energy level. In addition, it may cause problems that affect your thinking and could affect your personality.

Common Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency Anemia Include:

Fatigue, Disorientation, Memory issues, Moodiness, Irritability, Depression, Hair loss, Anxiety, Sleepiness And More

Iron Deficiency Anemia Info

How Is Iron Deficiency Anemia Diagnosed?

If you are concerned about iron deficiency anemia, schedule a visit with your doctor. Your physician should ask you various questions about your health and symptoms. Most likely they will run a blood test to see if your hemoglobin level is low.

Keep in mind that hemoglobin levels vary for men, women and children and there is a set normal range for each. If your hemoglobin levels are normal however, but your symptoms still match those of iron deficiency, make sure your doctor also tests your ferritin levels, which shows the iron stores in your body.

It is possible to have a normal hemoglobin level and still be iron deficient. This was the case for me. Having an iron-binding test is also a good idea to observe the iron saturation level in your blood.

How Is Iron Deficiency Anemia Treated?

If your doctor determines you have an iron deficiency, don’t worry, it is treatable. Your doctor will feasibly prescribe taking iron supplements, which will help build your iron levels back up. They may recommend a certain dosage and particular brand, depending on your situation.

Most iron supplements contain around 25 mg of iron and should be taken with food and some sort of a vitamin C supplement (to help avoid stomach upset and aid* in absorption).

I found a vegetable-based iron supplement worked best for me, after trying several brands. Some iron supplements cause bloating, nausea or dark stools. Play around to find one that works best for you.

Additionally, your doctor will very likely suggest eating an iron-rich diet. This is important, as it takes time to bring your iron levels back to a normal range. Remember your iron level typically doesn’t get depleted overnight, so eating a healthy diet, including plenty of whole foods, will help boost* your body’s ability to build iron and function properly.

Your body needs a variety of nutrients to produce* skin, muscle, hair, fingernails, bone and more. Moreover, it needs nutrients for your blood to carry oxygen to all parts of the body and to carry out hosts of other bodily functions.
Most nutrients you need come from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and meat. Processed foods may contain some nutrients your body needs, but definitely not the same amount or the quality you get when you eat whole foods.

If you do choose to eat some processed foods, make sure you look for products fortified with iron, such as breads and cereal. Make sure you also read the packaging labels to determine the amount of iron contained in the product, as well as the other ingredients.

It is always best to avoid packaged items with a long list of ingredients, those with hard to pronounce names, additives and ones with sugar at the top of the list.

What Foods Will Help Build Iron?

There many foods available that contain iron to boost* your energy. Although not everyone eats meat, it is a good choice if you are iron deficient. Meat contains heme iron, which is found in animals and typically attached to proteins, called heme proteins.

Heme is the best source of iron for people who are iron deficient. Non-heme iron food choices are beneficial too. They can be found in vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, some processed foods and iron supplements.[4]

Good Sources Of Heme Iron:

Beef, Chicken, Oysters, Turkey, Ham, Veal, Tuna, Liver, Salmon, Egg, Shrimp, Chicken Liver, Lamb and Pork Loin

Good Sources Of Non-Heme Iron:

  • Cereal
  • Beans – Bread
  • Potatoes
  • Noodles – Rice
  • Apricots
  • Raisins
  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, etc.)
  • Molasses
  • Broccoli[5]

Alternative Treatments To Try For Iron Deficiency Anemia

Acupuncture and Herbs

Besides taking iron supplements and eating an iron-rich diet, there are a number of other things you can try to build your iron including: acupuncture, herbs and essential oils.

Acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat* anemia and symptoms of tiredness, weakness and more.[6] Often times, it is used in conjunction with herbs to build and nourish the blood.

There are also a number of essential oils that can be beneficial to those suffering with iron deficiency. Lemon oil in particular helps stimulate the production of red and white blood cells.

I used to add a drop of lemon oil to my morning glass of water to help get my energy going for the day.

Other citrus oils such as grapefruit and orange can help promote iron absorption and alleviate* fatigue, as well. Make sure you choose a therapeutic grade and read up on application methods.

References

1 Wpadmin. “22 Shocking Iron Deficiency Anemia Statistics.” HRFnd. N.p., 23 Dec. 2014. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
2 Wpadmin. “22 Shocking Iron Deficiency Anemia Statistics.” HRFnd. N.p., 23 Dec. 2014. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
3 Mayo Clinic Staff Print. “Iron Deficiency Anemia.” Overview – Iron Deficiency Anemia – Mayo Clinic. N.p., 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
4 “Iron We Consume.” Idi. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2016. http://www.irondisorders.org/iron-weconsume/
5 “Top Iron-Rich Foods List.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.
http://www.webmd.com/diet/iron-rich-foods#1
https://www.theacupunctureclinic.co.nz/acuncture-for-anemia/

Image Credits
Feature Image: Shutterstock.com
In-Post Image: www.medindia.net & Shutterstock.com

5 Reasons You Have Food Cravings

We all experience cravings from time to time, but what is it that causes them and why do some people experience more cravings than others? Maybe you’re not a sweets person, but all of a sudden a big piece of chocolate cake sounds good. Perhaps you crave something salty and crunchy at a certain time of day or can’t wait to get home and eat a big slice of greasy pizza? Whatever it is, we all can relate. Many people try and resist their cravings and others beat themselves up when they give in, but did you know that your body is actually trying to tell you something? That’s right! Your body is trying to let you know you are missing something, whether it is a vitamin, some nutrient, or maybe just some tender loving care. There are a variety of reasons we all have cravings. In this blog, I wanted to share 5 reasons you have food cravings. Let’s take a look…

5 Reasons you have food cravings:

  1. Seasonal Cravings—
    Seasonal cravings are natural and common for many people. That’s because your body is trying to adapt to the changing temperatures. In the winter months, you naturally crave warming foods like stews, soups and hearty casseroles, whereas in the summer months you tend to crave cooling foods, such as watermelon, cucumbers and salads. Many seasonal cravings also stem from the growing seasons. Instinctively we know when it’s time for certain varieties of food. For example, in the fall, we tend to crave foods that were just harvested such as zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, apples and pumpkins. I don’t know about you, but I love pumpkin! Last week I had a serious craving for something pumpkin—like muffins or pumpkin bread. I actually broke down the other day and made myself some paleo pumpkin coffee cake after searching for pumpkin recipes on Pinterest. I don’t eat a whole lot of sweets anymore, but having a piece was just enough to satisfy my craving and made me feel content. Seasonal cravings are not a bad thing and can be quite comforting. In fact, it is important to eat the foods that are prevalent during certain times of the year, as they help your body perform and function better.

    pumpkins
    pumpkins
  2. Vitamin Deficiencies—
    Many people crave certain types of food because they are lacking some vitamin. In our fast-paced society, many people eat on the run and opt for quick, easy to prepare food. Often times this includes fast food or processed food, which may taste good, but many times it lacks the nutrients our bodies need and crave. In my new book, Wholey Cow A Simple Guide To Eating And Living, I talk about how food is fuel, and how many people don’t feed their body the information and nutrients it needs to function properly. Your body needs a variety of nutrients to produce skin, muscle, hair, finger nails, bone and more. When you don’t feed your body the right foods with the right nutrients, vitamin deficiencies can develop, such as an iron deficiency and more. Many people crave chocolate, especially women, at certain times of the month. While this is a common craving, it is not always the fact that you love chocolate, but rather that your body is most likely craving the mineral magnesium. When you feed your body more foods rich in magnesium such as kale, bananas, almonds, avocados, pumpkin seeds, or black beans, you most likely won’t notice the craving for chocolate as much.

    chocolate
    chocolate
  3. Hormonal Imbalances—
    Many people crave certain foods because they have a hormonal imbalance. Again—women can have hormonal imbalances that may cause cravings for chocolate or sweets. When your hormones are in-flux they can also wreak havoc on your body and sleep patterns. When this happens, you are often left tired and run down and many people turn to sweets for a quick pick-me-up. Unfortunately, the pick-me-up is usually short-lived and may leave you reaching for more sweets or more caffeine. People who have hormonal imbalances may also crave cheese or other comfort type foods. Cheese contains  l-tryptophan, which improves mood and promotes relaxation. This is one reason you might be craving a big slice of cheesy pizza, macaroni and cheese or some cheesy lasagna.

    lasagna
    lasagna
  4. Emotional Triggers—
    Many people turn to food when they want to turn away from the daily stresses of life. Food can be comforting and may temporarily give you a good feeling. Unfortunately, eating a box of cookies, or a bag of Doritos is not the best way to deal with a problem you are having with your spouse or significant other, a problem with another family member, or a situation at work. We need to face these problems and work through them instead of turning to food. The next time you find yourself going to your pantry for some junk food, take a minute to ask yourself, “What do I really need?” You need to be curious about what you are eating and why you want a certain item. Maybe you really want to talk to somebody who understands your situation, so call up a good friend instead of reaching for those chips. If you just want to feel better about yourself and change your mood, why not go for a walk, or treat yourself to a little self-care? Go have a pedicure, do some shopping, take a warm bath, or go to a movie. This way you will be taking care of yourself in a way that makes you feel good, instead of beating yourself up after eating some bad food.

    pedicure
    pedicure
  5. Yin & Yang Imbalances— Sometimes people tend to eat the same types of foods and get stuck in a pattern. When you do this, you can actually cause an imbalance. Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that idea of Yin and Yang in the body; that heat and cold exist in the body. There are both warming and cooling foods, which can be both expansive (Yin) and contractive (Yang). When there is an imbalance in the two, it can cause problems or discomfort. For example, if you are eating too many raw foods, over time, you may crave extremely cooked foods. If you are eating a diet filled with sugar-laden foods, you may start craving meat. Your body is naturally trying to balance itself out.
    pork
    pork

    Thanks for reading!

Barb

P.S. Grab a FREE Chapter of Wholey Cow A Simple Guide To Eating And Living here.

Source:
¹https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-9531/5-reasons-why-we-have-cravings.html

²https://www.rd.com/health/diet-weight-loss/cravings-meaning/