7 Signs of an Iron Deficiency

Feeling exhausted? And not the normal kind of exhausted—the deep-down, can barely function, whole body exhaustion? If you do, you may have an iron deficiency.
And you’re probably also a woman. Iron deficiency can happen in men too, it’s just much less common. Usually it’s due to giving blood or long-distance running. But for women, our day-to-day life can create this exhausting deficiency. There are two reasons you may become deficient:
  1. You’re not taking in (or not absorbing) enough iron, or

  2. You’re losing more blood than your body can make

…and for many, it’s a combination of the two. Iron plays a big role in making red blood cells, and these transport oxygen and energy throughout our body. Without enough iron our body needs to work extra hard…and that’s extra exhausting. It’s also the #1 deficiency in the US, and many of us don’t even know we’re low. Feeling tired has just become the norm for many of us…but it doesn’t have to be.

Get tested

A simple blood test from your doctor can tell you if your iron stores are low (your ferritin level) or if your hemoglobin levels are low (a sign of anemia). If you’re feeling tired and have a heavy period, a history of iron deficiency, a lot of exhaustion, and/or you’re a runner then it’s a good idea to get tested. Still not sure? Here are some lesser-known signs of an iron deficiency:

7 signs of an iron deficiency:

  1. You have heavy periods
A major cause of iron deficiency are heavy periods. Your body needs to make up for the lost blood every month, and sometimes it hasn’t had a chance to make enough blood before your period comes again. Having to change your tampon more than every 2 hours is a sign of a heavy period.
  1. Headaches
There are too many causes of headaches to name here, but low iron can be one of them. Low oxygen can cause your blood vessels to swell, causing a very painful noggin.
  1. You want to chew on ice
This is a strange but common symptom of very low iron. It’s a condition called pica and can cause a craving to chew on ice…or sometimes dirt or chalk. Thankfully, for low iron, it’s usually ice. So if you love nothing more than chomping down on some ice cubes, you might want to look at your iron levels.
  1. Pale skin
Iron makes red blood cells and they give your skin a rosy glow. Is your skin feeling grey or sallow? The inside of your lips and gums may become pale first, always keep an eye on those spots.
  1. Trouble climbing stairs?
Are you getting out of breath easily? You might think you’re out of shape, but it might just be low iron. Iron helps your body move oxygen through your blood, so if you’re out of breath after doing something you normally do easily, you might need more iron.
  1. Low thyroid levels
Low thyroid levels can also cause tiredness, so it’s a cruel cosmic joke that low iron can be caused by low levels of thyroid hormones. So always make sure to check both levels at the same time.
  1. Hair loss
This is my most common symptom of low iron. When my bathroom counter is covered in hair I know I need some extra iron. Your body prioritizes your bodily functions over your hair, so will slow the growth of hair when you’re low in iron…which is good for your body, but not great if you’re trying to grow your hair out. If you suspect you might be low in iron, be sure to get your levels tested and take a super absorbable form of iron, like Floradix (US/CA). How are your iron levels? Do you have any tips on getting your iron level up?
About the Author: Lisa Kilgour
Lisa Kilgour is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), founder of LisaKilgour.com, and a faculty member at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.