Chronic fatigue can be caused by various factors such as lack or poor quality of sleep, lack of exercise or dehydration. But there is other more insidious factor: iron deficiency. This anomaly ill-diagnosed or undiagnosed in most cases affects almost 25% of the world population, according to the World Health Organization. Discover the causes of iron deficiency and how to fix it.
Iron, an important trace element
Iron is a mineral that plays a vital role in the body, since it aids the carriage of oxygen throughout the body. It is also an essential component of hemoglobin, a blood cell protein that supplies oxygen to the various tissues and muscles. Moreover, hemoglobin is composed of red blood cells which give the blood its red color.
Iron is also extremely important for the body because it participates in the growth and musculoskeletal development. It ensures proper functioning of the cells and plays an important role in the synthesis of certain hormones, connective tissues and fetal development. It is stored as ferritin or hemosiderin, in the spleen, liver, muscle tissue and bone marrow.
Causes of iron deficiency
Anemia or iron deficiency occurs when the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin or when it loses a large amount of red blood cells because of a hemorrhage for example. It is often indicated by the appearance of several symptoms.
Common symptoms of iron deficiency
- Drop in blood pressure
- Somewhat bizarre cravings for inedible substances, such as clay or ash
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Inflammation or pain in the tongue
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
- Frequent infections
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Cold hands and feet
- Chronic fatigue
- Pale skin
- High heart rate
- Lack of appetite, especially in infants and children
- Uncomfortable tingling sensation in the legs (restless leg syndrome)
Lack of iron causes multiple pathologies, such as a weak immune system, an imbalance in the regulation of body temperature, weakness of physical and intellectual performance, gastrointestinal disorders, impaired cognitive function and many others. These symptoms can persist for years without the sufferer’s knowing which makes it difficult to determine the exact cause.
Pregnant women, vegetarians and vegans, children and people who suffer from disorders of absorption of nutrients, regular blood donors and women who have heavy periods are the people most likely to suffer from anemia.
Certain medications can also have a negative effect on iron absorption.
Why anemia is difficult to diagnose?
When you do a blood test, physicians usually measure the levels of ferritin in the blood. But the difficulty is that the range considered “healthy” is too broad to detect incipient anemia. Normal ferritin is from 12 to 150 ng/L for women and 12 to 300 ng/L for men.
When ferritin levels reach 80 ng/l, the symptoms of anemia tend to disappear. It is also difficult to diagnose iron deficiency, when the rate gets higher in people who suffer from inflammation or infection.
If you want to make sure your iron level is correct, you should do a Complete Blood Count (CBC) to assess the number of red cells, white cells, hemoglobin, hematocrit and platelets. This report is very relevant because it helps to show if the rate of hemoglobin and white blood cell count is low or not in people with anemia, even if they do not have symptoms.
How to have a greater amount of iron?
Iron is present in many foods. The easiest to absorb is heme iron that we find in animal products such as eggs, poultry, red meat (therefore it is recommended to eat it 2 times a week), and seafood. On the other hand, non-heme iron is found in seeds, vegetables – especially those with dark leaves such as spinach – tofu, nuts, etc.
For better absorption of nutrients, it is important to include foods rich in vitamin C to your diet.
Before taking any iron supplementation, even if you have anemia, it is important to consult your doctor to avoid an iron overdose that could be harmful to your body.
The treatment of anemia, whether medical or with food takes some time to bear fruit; so do not be discouraged if the results do not appear immediately.