6 Signs Of Iron Deficiency You Should Never Ignore

If
your body is deficient in any vitamin or mineral, you’ll see clear
signs that tell you something is off. And if you are iron deficient, it
can come with some pretty significant symptoms.

“Iron
is an essential component of many proteins and enzymes that support
important metabolic functions like transport of oxygen, energy
production, and DNA synthesis,” says Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, registered
dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition
and Dietetics. “[Iron] is needed for proper growth and development in
hemoglobin (a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to all the
body), myoglobin (a protein that carries oxygen to the muscles),
cytochromes (important for energy production), and peroxides (part of
the immune system).”

Having enough iron in your body therefore helps it run properly, gives you energy, and keeps your immune system strong.

However, iron deficiency is extremely common.

“Iron
deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world
mainly affecting children and women of childbearing age, pregnant women,
and people with certain medical conditions,” says Angelone.

Adds
Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, LMNT, registered dietitian, and owner of The
Stirlist, “A lack of iron can lead to anemia. However, there is a
difference between iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia. A person
could be iron deficient without feeling any symptoms, but iron
deficiency anemia can impact important organs in the body.”

One of
the main reasons you may be iron deficient is if you’re not eating the
right foods. “Iron is an essential mineral. That means the body does not
make it, so it has to be obtained by eating iron-rich foods,” says
Pankonin.

The signs of iron deficiency

Here are 6 signs you may be struggling with an iron deficiency.

1 Fatigue or tiredness.

You
may feel tired if you have an iron deficiency because your body needs
iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood
cells and is responsible for carrying oxygen around the body. Without
enough oxygen reaching your body, you won’t have as much energy.
“Microcytic anemia is a condition where iron stores are so low that
hemoglobin synthesis and red blood cell formation are impaired,” says
Angelone. “A serum ferritin (iron storage form) of less than 30 mcg/L
suggests iron deficiency and less than 10 mcg/L suggests iron deficiency
anemia.”

2 Skin and nail issues.

“Pale skin and
brittle/spoon-shaped or peeling nails are a sign of not enough
hemoglobin to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body,
including your nails (fingernails and toenails),” says Jerlyn Jones, MS,
MPA, RDN, LD, CLT, registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of The
Lifestyle Dietitian, LLC, and spokesperson, for the Academy of Nutrition
and Dietetics.

3 Shortness of breath.

“Hemoglobin,
which contains iron, helps carry oxygen throughout the body,” says
Pankonin. “Iron also plays a similar role in myoglobin, which is a
protein in muscle cells that can help carry oxygen from red blood cells
to skeletal and heart muscle. If iron deficiency develops, this might
cause shortness of breath and fatigue.” Iron deficiency isn’t the only
thing that is behind your fatigue; there’s also these 10 Reasons You’re
Always Tired That Have Nothing to Do With Sleep.

4 Glossitis (inflamed tongue)

“Glossitis
is a symptom of low iron. Depleted levels of iron in the blood may
result in low levels of myoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that’s
important for muscle health, including the tongue’s muscle tissue,” says
Jones.

5 Lack of appetite.

A 2020 study published in
PLOS ONE found that patients with iron deficiency anemia have decreased
appetite, and therefore also have an increased risk of malnutrition,
due to iron’s influence on the appetite-regulating hormone ghrelin and
leptin. (Related: How to Control Your Hunger Hormones to Lose Weight
Fast, According to Experts.)

6 Poor cognitive skills and decreased memory.

“Children
with iron deficiency are associated with poor cognitive development,
poor school achievement and abnormal behavior patterns. Basically, iron
deficiency anemia is one cause of learning difficulties in children. It
is important to assess iron status if any of these symptoms are
apparent,” says Angelone.

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