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Iron Deficiency: the Symptoms and Solutions

Let's chat about a common nutrient deficiency in Canada: iron deficiency, a.k.a. anemia. Low iron symptoms are common, and as a nutritionist, I often get asked: "Should I take iron supplements?". When it comes to iron, it is essential to work with a doctor or another health practitioner to be sure that extra iron, in supplement form, is needed. The best way to do this is through blood work. 

I always ask my clients if they have any of the following symptoms if iron deficiency is suspected; if they answer "yes" to a couple, I suggest asking their doctor for blood testing. Here are some signs to assess yourself and decide if you should ask your doctor for blood work. 

These symptoms include, but are not limited to the following:

  • extreme fatigue
  • pale skin, pale eyelids, and pale nail beds
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • canker sores
  • constipation
  • always getting sick
  • parasites
  • shortness of breath 
  • heart palpitations

You can see why blood work is essential, as the symptoms are not uncommon and can be caused by other health concerns.

To understand these symptoms, we need to know what exactly iron does for us. One of iron's main jobs in the body is the production of hemoglobin and oxygenating red blood cells. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells; its job is to carry and transport oxygen in our blood from our lungs to tissues. Yes, iron is a big deal! In addition, iron is essential for other bodily processes such as immune function, energy production, growth, and more. Now that we understand iron's job in the body, we can understand why it causes the above symptoms when our stores are low.  

Let's say you decided to start taking iron; I am sure you have questions. So, let's discuss some common questions about iron supplementation.

First, is usually how much iron should I take? This will vary between individuals; I am not your health practitioner, so I will --give general guidelines here. A good maintenance dose is up to 18 mg per day. I suggest a combination of supplements and iron-rich foods. Here are some great food sources of iron:

  • eggs
  • fish
  • liver
  • meat & poultry
  • green leafy veggies
  • beetroot
  • whole grains
  • kidney beans and lentils
  • tofu
  • enriched foods

I prefer whole food sources as mentioned above, but be mindful of any iron enriched foods you are consuming if you are supplementing with additional iron.

Try adding some of these foods into your daily meal rotation for the best results!

You may have heard that taking iron can constipate you, and it is true. Iron supplements can cause constipation and other gastrointestinal upsets. Iron can cause constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating when it is not efficiently absorbed and feeds harmful gut bacteria. One way to combat these uncomfortable side effects is to boost iron absorption by taking our iron on an empty stomach and with a vitamin C-rich drink, like lemon water. A second tip for increasing absorption is to avoid taking any calcium-rich foods or calcium supplements simultaneously or within a few hours of taking your iron. 

Absorption is a great segway into another popular question, when should I take my iron? I recommend clients take their iron either first thing in the morning with lemon water, before eating breakfast, as iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach. But if this upsets their stomach, I suggest again with lemon water half an hour before eating a meal. Then, if you still find that your stomach is off, take it with your meal. 

Lastly, I often get asked, how long will it take for my iron supplement to work? Or, how long will it take for my iron supplement to make me feel better? You can expect to feel better usually within a week, but full effects take about a month. But if you are not noticing a difference after a month of consistent use, I suggest heading back to your health practitioner. It is essential to discover why you are iron deficient, especially if your supplements are not making a difference. This takes a little detective work on your health practitioner's part, but a few reasons are:

  • not eating enough iron-rich foods 
  • low stomach acid, which is crucial for iron absorption
  • bleeding, think of your menstruation flow, is it heavy? You could have hemorrhoids, uterine fibroids, ulcers, or other conditions that cause blood loss
  • do you donate blood and often

other nutrient deficiencies can also cause iron deficiency. Mineral deficiencies (and excess) can be discovered by working with a practitioner like myself and conducting a hair mineral analysis. 

While working to find the root cause of your iron deficiency, you can try a store-bought supplement like Herbaland's Iron Plus. Each tasty, sugar-free, raspberry lemon gummy contains 8 mg of iron. Start with one or two and see how you feel. Remember, this dose may differ when working with a health practitioner; it may be higher. Other benefits of Herbaland's Iron plus gummies are folate and B12. As we discussed above, other nutrient deficiencies can be causing your low iron; two common deficiencies are folate and B12. 

I hope I answered some of your questions about iron supplementation and the importance of having enough iron stores so we can feel our best! 

Featured Blogger: Michelle Vysohlid, Holistic Nutritionist

I'm Michelle, the founder of Eat Well with Michelle & Find Wellness. I am a Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for holistic health & living and sharing how easy this lifestyle can be. I love educating my clients and audience on valuable and practical ways to find wellness in their lives. I will show you how you can heal and thrive one meal at a time! My main focus in practice is gut health, hormones, and metabolic syndrome. Learn more here.

Please reach out to me on social media as I love meeting new friends worldwide that share the same love for living with intention. Hope to hear from you friends! 

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