While everyone gets run down from time to time, being tired all of the time is not normal and could be a sign that something is wrong. Many people these days live fast-paced lives, eat the wrong types of food and are busy with work, family and other commitments, which can contribute to stress and fatigue. If you are a person however, who suffers from constant sleepiness, irritability and gets fatigued easily, you may be iron deficient or suffer from iron deficiency anemia. If you are concerned, schedule a visit with your doctor, as other symptoms may develop, left untreated. Most likely your doctor will run some blood tests to check your hemoglobin and blood count. An iron binding test, which checks your iron saturation level and ferritin level (iron stores in your body) may be also be done. If your doctor determines you are iron deficient, you may need to beef up your iron intake to relieve your chronic tiredness.
What is iron and why does your body need it?
Iron is an essential micro-nutrient your body needs to produce hemoglobin, which is needed to carry oxygen throughout your body and to individual cells. Our bodies do not produce iron on its own, but rather absorb it through the foods we eat. Our main sources of iron come from plants and animals, although some food products are fortified with iron.¹
What is Iron Deficiency Anemia?
If your doctor determines you have iron deficiency anemia, you may need more than over the counter iron supplements and possibly further testing, depending on the cause.
Iron deficiency anemia can develop when there is an insufficient amount of iron in the body. The condition develops when your blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells and can result from numerous causes including: an inadequate amount iron in the 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. If your body does not ingest and absorb enough iron, a multitude of symptoms can occur including: sleepiness, fatigue, moodiness, memory problems, hair loss, anxiety, depression and others.²
Who is at risk?
Iron deficiency anemia affects more people than other health condition and is a world-wide problem. Developing nations are especially at risk. In some areas, almost half of the population is affected. In the United States, it is a common problem for both women and children. In fact, 700,000 toddlers and 7.8 million women suffer with an iron deficiency in the U.S. alone. Pregnant women, the elderly and children are often at risk. Iron deficiency anemia is a common problem for menstruating women, as well. Those experiencing heavy periods during perimenopause are often affected by the condition too. In addition, a small percentage (2 %) of men are also affected with iron deficiency anemia.³
If you are iron deficient or diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, your doctor will most likely prescribe iron supplements, which can help build your iron levels back up to a normal range. There are a many brands of iron available to choose from. Most over the counter supplements contain approximately 25 mg. of iron, although some brands may contain more. Make sure you check with your doctor for proper dosage requirements, as it is individual and based on your iron testing levels and diagnosis. Iron supplements should be taken with vitamin C to help alleviate stomach upset and aid in absorption.
Iron comes in a variety of forms including: tablets, capsules, and liquid. You may have to play around a bit to find the form and brand that works best for you. I found a vegetable-based iron capsule to work best for myself, when I needed to re-build my iron stores, after trying several brands. Some people may prefer a timed-release option, as it delivers a steady amount of iron to your body throughout the day. Again, it is personal preference and everyone is different. Feel free to shop around and try different brands and formulations.
While taking an iron supplement should help build iron in your body, eating an iron-rich diet is also important for your journey back to health. Thankfully, there are many ways to beef up your iron. Ironically, one of the best food choices you can make to build iron is beef. That’s because beef contains heme iron, which is found in animals and typically attached to proteins, called heme proteins. Heme iron is the best source of iron for people who a iron deficient. Some other good sources of heme iron include: chicken, turkey, ham, veal, shrimp, lamb, salmon, mussels and clams.
If you are not a meat-eater, don’t worry, there are plenty of other non-heme iron options. Non-heme iron is found in vegetables, grains and some processed foods. You can also find non-heme iron in fruit, nuts and seeds. Some good sources of non-heme iron include foods such as strawberries, spinach, kale, beans, broccoli, noodles, oatmeal, molasses, rice, potatoes, bread, cereal and more.4
If you are buying processed food, make sure you read the food labels to determine the iron content, as well as other the ingredients. Make sure you try and avoid those products where sugar, fat and hydrogenated oil are at top of the list of ingredients. A diet rich in whole foods is the best source of nutrients for body. When possible, look for products with 5 ingredients or less. Some examples include: raisins, apricots, bagged salads, black beans, bagged spinach and nuts.
Although many people can restore their health with diet and iron supplements alone, some individuals may require other treatments. Depending on the cause and the severity of the deficiency, some individuals may require iron infusions to boost their iron levels more rapidly. Supplementation and eating an iron-rich diet however, may be prescribed after an infusion and monitoring.
Although iron deficiency anemia can be stressful and a challenge to deal with at times, it is treatable. Keep in mind that it does take time to re-build iron, so be patient and allow your body time to recover. If you are diligent with your iron supplements and follow an iron-rich diet plan, your body will naturally heal. Keeping a positive outlook and mind-set is also beneficial.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. If you would like to learn more about iron deficiency anemia, as well as how to eat healthier and live a healthy life-style, you may want to check out my book, Wholey Cow A Simple Guide To Eating And Living. It is available on Amazon. You can grab a FREE Chapter here.
¹“What Is Iron?” Idi, www.irondisorders.org/what-is-iron.
² Mayo Clinic Staff Print. “Iron Deficiency Anemia.” Overview – Iron Deficiency Anemia – Mayo Clinic. N.p., 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.
³Wpadmin. “22 Shocking Iron Deficiency Anemia Statistics.” HRFnd. N.p., 23 Dec. 2014. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
4“Iron We Consume.” Idi, www.irondisorders.org/iron-we-consume/.