Not sure why you’re feeling so tired? Upping your iron levels could help you get back on track
There are many reasons you could be feeling tired all the time: lack of sleep, late-night Netflix, eating too close to bedtime.
But rather than when you eat, what you eat could be to blame. Find out why low iron levels could lead to low energy levels.
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What is an iron deficiency?
An iron deficiency is, quite simply, a lack of the essential mineral iron in your body. Iron is important because it helps us make red blood cells, which carry oxygen in the blood around the body.1
Not eating enough iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia. This is when your iron levels are so low that your body can’t make enough red blood cells, so your organs and tissues don’t get all the oxygen they need for good health.2
Signs of iron deficiency anaemia can include3:
• feeling tired
• lack of energy
• feeling short of breath
• heart palpitations
What causes low iron levels?
Iron deficiency is the world’s most common nutritional deficiency – the World Health Organisation say around 25% of people worldwide are anaemic due to an iron deficiency.4
It’s not known how many people in the UK have an iron deficiency, possibly because the symptoms can be dismissed or mistaken for another condition. But certain factors can make low iron levels more likely.
These include if you’ve been losing a lot of blood – from heavy periods or a stomach ulcer, for example – you’re not getting adequate iron from your diet, or you’re pregnant.5,6
During pregnancy, your body produces more blood to support your growing baby, and therefore needs more iron to make all those extra red blood cells. So you could be at risk if you’re not getting enough from your diet.7
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How low iron levels affect your energy levels
Even if you don’t have full-blown anaemia, low iron levels can still make you feel run-down and tired.8
An Australian study, published in Quality of Life Research in 2000, interviewed nearly 29,000 women who said they had low iron levels. The researchers found these women felt tired all the time and had lower levels of general health and wellbeing, than women with no history of iron deficiency.9
What to do if you think you have iron deficiency
Ask your GP for a blood test to check your red blood cells. If you do have low levels, they may recommend iron supplements.10
Make sure you eat plenty of good sources of iron too, including:11
• dark-green leafy vegetables, like watercress and kale
• beans, peas and lentils
• animal proteins, like steak
• nuts and seeds
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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. NHS Inform. Iron deficiency anaemia. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/nutritional/iron-deficiency-anaemia
2. As Source 1
3. Mayo Clinic. Iron deficiency anaemia. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355034
4. World Health Organisation. Global anaemia prevalence and number of individuals affected. Available from: http://www.who.int/vmnis/anaemia/prevalence/summary/anaemia_data_status_t2/en/
5. As Source 1
6. WebMD. Anemia in pregnancy. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/anemia-in-pregnancy#1
7. As Source 6
8. MedicineNet.com. Iron and iron deficiency. Available from: https://www.medicinenet.com/iron_and_iron_deficiency/article.htm#who_is_most_at_risk_for_iron_deficiency
9. Patterson AJ, et al. Iron deficiency, general health and fatigue: results from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11190004
10. As Source 1
11. BDA. Food Fact Sheet Iron. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/iron_food_fact_sheet.pdf