To be healthy, it’s essential you get enough iron. Your body needs iron to produce hemoglobin, a protein that is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout your body. But despite iron’s important role in the body, it’s surprisingly common for people to be iron deficient, especially women. While only 2 percent of men are deficient in iron, up to 12 percent of white women are, and the figure is even higher for black and Hispanic women — up to 20 percent. If you suspect you aren’t getting enough iron in your diet, these 10 symptoms can help determine whether you have an iron deficiency.
Tiredness is common, so it’s rarely recognized as a sign of another problem. However, if you’re feeling run-down and fatigued all the time, it might be due to lack of iron. As a result, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin and your cells don’t get as much oxygen as they need. This can lead to a long-term feeling of tiredness that you can’t shake, even if you’re getting enough sleep.
Anxiety, depression, or feeling out of sorts
Studies have linked iron deficiency with the development of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. This may be because iron affects your neurotransmitters’ ability to function, which alters your mood for the worse, upping your stress levels and decreasing your ability to focus.
Cravings for non-food substances
Have you ever wanted to eat clay, chalk, or other substances that aren’t food? It sounds bizarre, but this condition, known as pica, isn’t that uncommon. Iron deficiency can cause these strange urges, although it’s best not to give in to those cravings. Eating things like clay can have detrimental effects on your body.
Hemoglobin is what gives color to your skin. When you aren’t getting enough iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin, and your red blood cell count drops. This can give you a washed-out, drained-looking complexion.
Your fingernails can give you clues about your overall health, including whether you’re getting enough iron. Thin, brittle nails that break easily can be a sign of an iron deficiency. Spoon nails, so called because a spoon-like dip appears in the middle part of your nail, and ridged nails can also indicate that you’re not getting an adequate amount of iron.
Low levels of iron in your body deprive your muscles of oxygen, which leads to longer recovery times after working out and more soreness after exertion. This applies to your tongue too, since it’s a muscle; a swollen or sore tongue can be a giveaway of an iron deficiency.
When you’re deficient in iron, your body sends all its available oxygen to the most important places, like your organs and muscles. Hair, on the other hand, isn’t essential.When your hair follicles are deprived of oxygen, your hair starts falling out. It’s normal to lose about 100 hairs every day, but if you’re losing more than usual, an iron deficiency might be to blame.
Because lack of iron in your blood can lower your red blood cell count, as well as blood volume, your body has difficulty regulating its temperature. If you find yourself shivering all the time, even when others around you aren’t cold, you might want to get checked for an iron deficiency.
Frequent illness or infections
Iron is important for maintaining a healthy immune system. When you’re deficient in iron, your body has trouble transporting enough oxygen to your spleen and lymph nodes, which are both crucial for fighting off illness. This can result in getting sick and having infections more frequently.
Restless leg syndrome
Do you have tingling sensations in your legs, or a compulsive desire to move around? This condition, called restless leg syndrome, is linked with insufficient iron levels. Restless leg syndrome can cause crawling or burning sensations in your legs, and the discomfort can make it hard to sleep.
Most of the symptoms on this list can be caused by things other than iron deficiency, but if you’re experiencing more than one symptom, see a doctor and get your iron levels tested. Don’t try to diagnose an iron deficiency yourself, as eating too much iron can damage your liver, so check with a medical professional first. In many cases, correcting an iron deficiency is as simple as eating more foods that are rich in iron, such as red meat, oysters, leafy green vegetables, and eggs. If you have an underlying condition, such as an inability to absorb iron, a doctor can help you find ways to alleviate your symptoms.