Practice shows that deficiency in iron is the most prevalent and also most misdiagnosed condition. While doctors tend to tell patients that their iron levels are good, it turns out that they are wrong at most instances.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency:
The iron deficiency symptoms vary depending on the iron levels and while some people experience intense version of one particular symptom, some people experience a combination of more of them.
- Brain fog
- Random sharp stabbing left-sided chest pain
- Poor blood sugar control
- Dark bags under eyes (pale skin reveals the dark veins in that area)
- Feeling tired all of the time
- Feeling cold all of the time
- Restless sleep
- Weak nails
- Pale skin
- Hair loss
- Low blood pressure
- Depression and post-partum depression
- Chronic fatigue
- Pale nailbeds
- Restless leg syndrome
- Muscles spasms
- Shortness of breath when trying to exercise
As mentioned in the very beginning, many patients are told that their iron levels are fine, although they have low iron. There are various reasons for this misdiagnose. Iron levels are tested with ferritin which measures storage of iron and this test is highly affected by the food you consumed over the previous 24 hours. The issue with ferretin is that its scope is very broad and most of the labs give a scope from 11-297 ug/L. Patients are told to take iron supplement if their ferritin is 12. Practice shows that iron the symptoms of iron deficiency don’t disappear until the patient is around 80ug/L.
The most common symptoms of iron deficiency are hair loss, feeling cold and constant fatigue. Although all patients are different, most of them have started losing hair at the ferretin being around 50ug/L. It hair loss usually disappeared until their feritin got to 80-100 ug/L.
Proper ferritin reference ranges
||Depleted iron stores
||Reduced iron stores
||Adequate iron stores
CBC (complete blood count) and iron levels
Another sign which is often ignored is the Complete Blood Count. Hemoglobin transports the oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and if its range is 120-160 and yours is 122, it is very likely that you are anemic. The complete blood count tells a lot about the oxygenation of the hemoglobin, cells vs fluid, the size of the cells, and the distribution of red blood cells.
If the MCV is low and the RDW is very high, it is very likely that you are iron deficient. CBC is tested each time a patients has does a blood work and ferritin is usually tested to confirm. Feritin can be increased as result of inflammation, which explains why people who have increased feritin are iron deficient.
Why low iron causes you to feel cold
Given the fact that iron is conductor of heat, lack of it makes the person feel cold. On the other hand, people with high levels of iron are generally warm. Moreover, iron deficiency is usually accompanied with low blood pressure, which is followed by coldness. Therefore, if the low blood pressure stops you from pushing blood to the extremities, your hands and feet are going to feel cold.
Conditions which have similar symptoms to iron deficiency
The most common symptoms of iron deficiency (feeling weak, cold and tired), can be also caused by low blood pressure, chronic fatigue, thryoiditis, hashimoto`s disease, and hypothyroidism. Very often, a patient may have all of the conditions combined. If you digestion is slowed down as result of hypothyroidism, your body will be unable to secrete stomach acid and thus get iron from the food. Consequently, you will experience low blood pressure and low iron.
Causes of iron deficiency
1. Colon Cancer
Iron deficiency is often the first indicator of colon cancer.
2. Low Stomach Acid
As mentioned above, if you are unable to digest food properly, you will not be able to extract iron from it. A couple of things may be the reason, including acid blockers, zinc deficiency, stress, anxiety, high carbohydrate diet and other.
In case of stress, the blood is pushed from the intestines to the muscles, which makes the body run away instead of process food and extracts its nutrients.
4. Excess Caffeine
Excess caffeine has the same effect as stress because it is considered as synthetic stress.
5. Acid Blocked Medications
Using medications like Prevacid, Pantaloc and Nexium for a longer period of time can cause iron deficiency and many other deficiencies. This happens due to the fact that these medications prevent the secretion of stomach acid and lack of it results in inability to break down the food and get its nutrients.
6. Celiac Disease
If a patient has celiac disease, he/she is deficient in all nutrients.
7. Heavy Periods
You can become iron deficient if you are bleeding more iron than you are basically consuming it.
8. Donating Blood
Each blood donation is accompanied by a drop of 20-40 ferritin units.
9. Excess Intake of Black Tea/ Coffee
Constant exposure to tannis which is found in black tea/ coffee decreases the bioavailability of all nutrients. Therefore , patients with overload of iron are told to consume these beverages in order to prevent the iron absorption.
Diarrhea prevents you from absorbing the food because it the food itself leaves the body very fast during this condition.
11. Food Sensitivities
Bloated stomach prevent the proper absorption of all nutrients, including iron.
10. Dairy Consumption
Many patients had low ferritin as result of the consumption of dairy products.
11. Wheat Consumption
Again, wheat consumption interferes with the ferritin levels, probably because it causes inflammation of intestines and thus prevents absorption of nutrients.
12. Vegetarian Diet
The body absorbs 50-80 percent from animal sources and 2-18 percent from plant sources.
13. Inadequate Iron Intake
Needless to say, if you don’t consume enough iron your body will be unable to use it.
Proper iron supplementation
Given the fact that most iron supplements come in bad form, they cause pain in the abdomen or constipation. This happens due to the fact that they contain gluconate and ferrous fumarate, both of which are difficult to absorb. The best would be to use iron bisglycinate which is easier to absorb and it is much easier on digestion. It is also important to take vitamin C along with iron because it boosts absorption. On the other hand, don’t take it along food which prevent iron absorption, such as eggs, milk thistle, peppermint tea, chamomile tea, fiber, calcium, copper, and magnesium.
Not testing ferritin can be irresponsible
Anyone who has at least one of the symptoms mentioned above should test their ferritin, including vegetarians, vegans, pregnant woman and post-partum women. Pregnant women are especially recommended to take this test because proper iron storage is crucial for the baby`s wellbeing as well as the condition of the mother after giving birth.