“Hey, dude, you need to pump some iron” doesn’t just go for lifting weights. You need to make sure your body also has the appropriate level of the mineral iron.
Iron is directly connected to your red blood cells, so a low level of iron results in a low level of blood, which as you might guess can turn into a pretty serious problem.
But how do you know if you have low iron outside of the doctor performing a blood test?
And what should you do if you do have low levels?
We’ve got all the answers for you and then some, right here.
So keep on reading!
What Does Iron in the Body Do?
Iron is what is referred to as an essential mineral.
It is something your body needs to have as it helps transport oxygen through the body. The mineral itself is part of hemoglobin, which is the substance found in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of your body.
Two-thirds of the iron within your body is found with the hemoglobin.
So, if your iron levels begin to drop, it means your body is not going to receive enough oxygen. This can cause all sorts of problems, ranging from it taking longer for wounds to heal your muscles not recovering after a workout (and these are just some of the minor issues).
The other one-third of iron is found in your body’s skin, hair, and nails, as well as other cells within the body (WebMD, 2017).
What Amount of Iron is Right?
The necessary amount of iron can vary greatly, depending on your age, health, and gender. If you are found to have an iron deficiency, your doctor will prescribe to you a specific amount you need to follow.
However, in general, this is a mineral you need more of the younger you are. In fact, infants and toddlers require the highest amount of iron because they are growing so quickly.
This is an amount your doctor again will go over with you though as some children may need more based on their health (and size) at birth. By the time a child hits four though, they need about 10 milligrams a day and this continues on until they are eight. From the ages of nine to 13, a child needs eight milligrams of iron a day.
The amount of iron needed in men begins to drop slowly as he ages. Women, on the other hand, require more iron. This is because they lose iron while on their period. Women on birth control who do not experience periods for the same duration will not lose as much. Unless otherwise told by a doctor though, the average woman from the age of 19 to 50 will need around 18 milligrams of iron every day. This is compared to the eight milligrams of iron required by men.
Following menopause, a woman’s number drops down to eight milligrams as well (WebMD, 2017).
Reasons Why You’d Need More Iron Than Normal?
There are a handful of reasons as to why you might need more iron than the average person of your age and gender. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you will need a substantial amount more as you are passing iron to your child.
This is one reason why prenatal vitamins are so important to take.
If you recently had kidney failure, you probably saw a large drop of iron removed from the body, in which case you need to begin increasing this amount back up with iron supplements. If you recently went through bariatric surgery, have had an ulcer or some sort of a gastrointestinal disorder (such as Crohn’s disease), you probably have lower levels of iron.
Probably one area of concern you haven’t looked at is if you work out a good amount.
When you put yourself through an intense workout, you may destroy red blood cells.
With so many different reasons as to why you might need more iron in your diet, it is always recommended to see your doctor for an annual physical.
Symptoms of Having an Iron Deficiency
An iron deficiency is also known as anemia.
There are all sorts of possible symptoms signaling you may currently suffer from anemia. While one symptom does not mean you for sure have an iron deficiency, you should consult your primary medical physician should you suffer from any of these symptoms.
Even if you’re not suffering from anemia, you may be suffering from other health problems as well.
If you’re feeling usually tired it is a potential sign of having a low red blood cell count. Your body often becomes tired when it’s not receiving the necessary oxygen throughout the body. Due to the lack of red blood cells, oxygen delivery slows, which causes you to feel tired. On top of this, your heart works harder in order to pump additional blood throughout the body, which increases the chances of you feeling tired. In general, most people who show signs of low iron levels demonstrate feeling unusually tired.
Have you noticed a change in your complexion?
If so, it might be due to a lack of red blood cells. Hemoglobin gives your red blood cells its color, so when you have a reduction in red blood cells (and the color itself) your skin will begin to look lighter. This may appear throughout your body, or in one targeted area, such as the lower eyelids, gums, or just the face.
If you are finding yourself sucking for air after lighter workouts or even just from long walks, it might be because your body is not receiving the necessary oxygen due to the lack of red blood cells.
To increase the oxygen pushed into the red blood cells and delivered to the rest of the body, your body will cause you to breath harder and faster, as if you’ve worn yourself out.
Because your body is not delivering as much oxygen, it means your brain is also not receiving as much oxygen as normal. This lack of oxygen can lead to a headache. If you’ve ever experienced an elevation headache, usually from visiting an extremely high elevation city or from hiking up high-elevation mountains, it is a very similar headache. Both are caused by a lack of oxygen delivered to your head. When blood and oxygen do not reach the brain as normal, the blood vessels in your brain may swell.
When you suffer from low iron levels, you may also experience heart palpitations. When your body works overtime to pump out more red blood cells and more oxygen, the heart has to work harder. When the heart works harder it increases the potential for palpitations. If not corrected over time, it may even lead to the development of an enlarged heart or a permanent heart murmur.
Do your body’s skin, hair, and nails suddenly look a bit worse for wear?
Maybe you’re seeing more ridges in the nails or your hair damages easily?
If so, it might be due to an iron deficiency. When you have an iron deficiency the limited amount of blood cells and oxygen your body is producing is sent to organs and other vital bodily tissues. Your hair, teeth, and nails, as you can live without these areas, are then put on the back burner until your body begins to see an increase in iron levels. So if your hair is noticeably thinner or even falling out, there’s a good chance it’s because of low iron levels.
It is important whenever you brush your teeth to analyze the inside of your mouth.
There’s a reason why visits to the dentist may lead to the identification of other diseases and health problems. Determining the potential of low iron levels is just another one of the medical conditions your dentist may identify. If you have low iron levels you may experience some swelling and soreness. Your tongue may also become inflamed or swollen. It likely will also become pale due to the lack of blood running into your mouth.
Did you ever see the episode of Seinfeld where Frank Costanza told Kramer he sleeps in different beds than his wife because, in his works, she’s got the “Jimmy legs.” Jimmy’s legs was a reference to legs that would kick and move during the night. In reality, it’s possible Mrs. Costanza actually suffered from an iron deficiency. Restless leg syndrome is linked to an iron deficiency. While it is the least common symptom of all those listed (just 25 percent of those with restless leg syndrome also experience anemia), it is something to consider.
In addition to those other eight signs, there are a handful of other less common symptoms to consider.
These less common symptoms include odd food cravings or even the craving to eat non-edible items (like chalk, paper or dirt). You may feel an increase in anxiety, your extremities may feel colder than usual, and you may suffer from more frequent infections as you don’t have either the blood or oxygen reaching points in your body as quickly.
How Do You Identify Signs Of Low Iron
After going through the potential symptoms and saw you might have low iron levels, you decided to visit the doctor. If the doctor confirms this notion, you’ll need to look for ways to increase your iron levels.
Thankfully, there are all sorts of ways to do this.
For starters, you can always take a supplement. If you’re not already taking a multi-vitamin during the day you should. Your doctor may tell you if you should just alter your diet a bit or if adding a vitamin supplement is the best course of action.
Beyond just popping a pill, eating red meat, poultry and pork all come packed with higher iron levels (most animal proteins come with a good amount). Darker green vegetables, like kale and spinach, have higher levels of iron. Even dried fruit like apricots and raisins come loaded with iron.
On top of darker green vegetables and the meat, you should look into seafood and seeds (Healthline, 2017).
Boost Iron Absorption
Of course, your body will not absorb all the vitamins and minerals you bring in. If you already suffer from low iron levels, you don’t want more to dissipate due to the iron not being completely absorbed. In order to help increase the level of iron your body absorbs, consider eating vitamin C with your meals. This helps improve absorption throughout your body.
Foods Might Be Zapping Your Iron Levels
There are a handful of foods you may need to cut back on if you do suffer from low iron levels. These foods and drinks include coffee, tea, high-calcium foods (such as milk and cheese) and also whole grains. You might want to look at removing this from your diet in order to improve how your body absorbs it (Healthline, 2017).
It is very important for you to stay on top of your iron levels. A drop in iron levels means a drop in your red blood cells. Many people may currently suffer from low iron levels yet they might not even know it. If you’ve gone through the symptoms and believe you might fall into iron deficiencies, you’ll need to make an appointment with your current medical service provider.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to increase your level if iron without altering your diet completely.
By increasing your level if iron, you will no longer feel as tired throughout the day. You’ll also heal faster and avoid other negative health side effects. You just need to make sure and consult your doctor before starting any regimen, including that of new iron supplements.
Having low iron levels is no joking matter and it is something you need to take very seriously.
If you don’t, you’ll increase the chances of having low iron levels as you age. So always make an appointment with your doctor annually to go over everything.