Hidden signs you need more iron-rich foods

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By Creative Media News

  • Brain lethargy, brittle nails, heart palpitations: Symptoms of iron deficiency
  • Up to 80% affected: Global iron deficiency estimate by WHO
  • Iron’s role: Essential for oxygen transport, immune system, and reducing heart/respiratory risks

Brain lethargy, brittle nails, and heart palpitations are not necessarily symptoms one would associate with iron deficiency.

However, they are among the most common indications that you are deficient in this vital nutrient, a condition that the World Health Organization estimates affects up to eight in ten people worldwide.

Iron is essential for oxygen transport throughout the body, maintains a healthy immune system, and reduces the risk of heart and respiratory conditions. 

“Our cells, tissues, and organs cannot function optimally without sufficient iron because the body cannot produce enough healthy red blood cells,” says Adam Enaz, a registered clinical dietitian.

Inadequate amounts may lead to anemia, which is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. 

Therefore, how much iron is truly necessary? How does one determine their iron levels? What dangers does a deficiency entail? 

What amount of iron is required?

In addition to age and gender, the recommended daily allowance of iron is contingent upon a variety of other variables, including pregnancy.

However, research has revealed concerningly low iron levels among some Britons.  

“According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), which evaluates the nutritional status and dietary patterns of the general population of the United Kingdom, 49% of teenage girls and 25% of women have inadequate iron intakes, putting them at a higher risk of deficiency,” explains Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist and Healthspan advisor. 

The NHS recommends that men between the ages of 19 and 50 consume 8.7 milligrams (mg) of iron daily, while women in the same age group should consume 14.8 mg. 

“Women have a greater requirement for iron to compensate for the iron lost during menstruation,” Hobson explains.

The recommended daily allowance for women decreases to 8.7 mg after the age of 50, which is consistent with the recommendation for men. This is because it is generally presumed that menopause has taken place by this time, which eliminates the iron loss caused by menstruation.

Instead, boys aged 11 to 18 should aim for 11.3 mg, while females of the same age should strive for 14.8 mg.  

Symptoms that you require more iron

Although an iron deficiency can be detected through a blood test, several other telltale symptoms may also serve as indicators. 

Acquiring additional ailments, including coughing and colds

Iron is essential for immune system development and function; individuals with low iron status are more vulnerable to infections than those with normal iron levels.

Hobson states, “A sufficient iron intake promotes the maturation and proliferation of immune cells, including lymphocytes, which are essential for fighting infections.”

He continues, “A study involving more than 1,400 individuals found that iron deficiency was an independent predictor of respiratory tract infections such as the common cold.” 

Additionally, postoperative infections, such as those affecting the urinary tract, were more prevalent in individuals with reduced iron levels.

Do you frequently feel fatigued despite sleeping enough?

“A deficiency in iron prevents the body from producing hemoglobin, an essential oxygen carrier for the body’s tissues,” explains Enaz.

Iron deficiency may lead to symptoms such as fatigue and frailty.

Pale irises and pale skin beneath

A deficiency in hemoglobin can result in paler skin and ivory-colored lower eyelids. 

Pull your lower eyelid downward while observing your eyelids in a mirror. The interior layer ought to be a brilliant shade of red.

Iron levels may inhibit the production of hemoglobin, resulting in reduced oxygen delivery to the epidermis and mucous membranes. “This may result in a paler appearance in those regions,” Enaz explains.

Lack of breathlessness

It is normal to experience dyspnea during vigorous physical exertion, such as brisk walking, running, or ascending stairs. 

However, it could become problematic if you experience breathlessness during routine activities or if you feel unusually short of breath.

“Iron deficiency hinders the body’s ability to produce oxygen-carrying blood cells,” explains Enaz. 

This may cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, which is particularly noticeable during physical exertion. A severe iron deficiency may lead to complications such as angina or chest discomfort because the heart may have to work harder to transport oxygenated blood.

Additionally, iron is an essential constituent of myoglobin, a protein that facilitates muscle contraction and is present in muscle cells. 

“Myoglobin ensures that oxygen is available when muscles are actively engaged and require more oxygen to produce energy by converting glucose and fatty acids into ATP, the primary energy molecule of the cell,” Hobson explained. “Myoglobin stores oxygen in muscle tissue.”

This mechanism is indispensable for sustained muscular endurance and muscle contraction.

Nailed brittleness

Nails that are prone to breakage or appear thinner than usual may serve as an indication of a deficiency in iron.

A deficiency in iron can cause the nails to become brittle and even spoon-shaped. “This is additionally termed koilonychia,” explains Enaz.

Additionally, pale nails may indicate a deficiency in iron since oxygen reaches fewer cells, including those in the nails.

Longing for non-food objects

This condition, also known as Pica, is characterized by demands for substances like ice and clay, which, as Enaz states, may indicate an iron deficiency.

The precise etiology of the association between low iron levels and Pica remains uncertain; nevertheless, a study published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science discovered that patients afflicted with Pica reported its resolution within three weeks of receiving their initial intravenous iron infusion.

RLS is restless legs syndrome.

Are you having difficulty keeping your legs still? This has the potential to cause disruptions not only during the day but also into the night.

“Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition characterized by an urge to move the legs and unpleasant sensations,” explains Enaz.

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Iron deficiency can lead to decreased levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can precipitate symptoms of RLS. “Dopamine is derived from the amino acid l-tyrosine, which is abundant in egg whites and a variety of meats,” Enaz continues.

“Dietary options including beef and omelets have the potential to enhance levels of both iron and dopamine.”

Increased pulse rate or palpitations of the heart

Are you aware of your heart rate? You may also experience an irregular or accelerated heart rate. This could be associated with your iron deficiency.

“Inadequate iron levels can reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, requiring the heart to work harder to circulate oxygen throughout the body,” according to Enaz.

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