Are low iron stores getting you down?
Jane Goehner, Naturopath, Oakville
After a good nights sleep, you awake un-refreshed and notice dark circles under your eyes. It is difficult to focus while you are at work and you find yourself short of breath and dizzy after running up a flight of stairs. Recently you have noticed your hair is falling out easily, your nails are splitting, and you feel freezing cold despite that extra layer of clothing.
Any of these symptoms sound familiar? They are quite common and often signs that your body is low in iron. Iron carries oxygen in your red blood cells and delivers it to every cell in your body to keep you functioning at your best. The iron in your red blood cells is replenished from iron bound to a storage protein called ferritin. If the iron in your red blood cells is reduced or your iron stores are depleted, your energy levels drop and you will find yourself struggling to get through your busy day.
Those more at risk for low iron stores are children, teenagers, women (especially pregnant women), and those following vegan or vegetarian diets. Conditions such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease can compromise iron absorption and often result in reduced iron stores.
A simple blood test (requested by your MD or ND) can screen for low iron: a CBC (complete blood count) will assess if you have enough iron available in your red blood cells for use now. Ferritin is another blood test that measures the level of this important iron storage protein in your body and will determine if your iron reserves are adequate. It is important to note that even if your CBC results are normal (ie. there is enough iron for immediate use) if your Ferritin level is low (your iron stores are not sufficient) you can still experience many symptoms of iron deficiency such as fatigue, dizziness and hair loss.
If you are at risk for low iron ensure you have both of these tests screened at your regular physical exam or sooner if any of the above symptoms appear and cannot be explained by other changes in your health or lifestyle.
How low is too low? Most of us will have symptoms of low iron if our stores are insufficient (ferritin levels between 40ug/L and 80 ug/L), and will certainly have many of the above symptoms at levels below 40ug/L. Adequate iron stores should be at least 80 to 100 ug/L. Be an advocate for your own health and always ask for copies of your blood tests so that you can see how levels might change over time.
To correct this common problem, I recommend increasing your intake of iron rich foods such as lean red meat, eggs, spinach, quinoa, legumes, raisins, dried apricots and dark chocolate. Here are a couple ideas…(Pump it up Frittata and Vegan Iron Building Smoothie) An iron supplement may also be indicated, always consult your health care practitioner to see if an iron supplement is right for you. A naturopathic doctor can ensure that your iron stores remain healthy by optimizing your digestion to improve absorption of this important mineral.
Balance Point Health Centre, Oakville, 289-291-0254