Iron is an essential element for the human body, playing a vital role in the delivery of oxygen to its cells. Unfortunately, a lack of iron is one of the most common problems found in a typical modern diet, with up to 8% of people in the western world estimated to suffer from a deficiency.
How do you know if you might be one of these people? Here are seven telltale iron deficiency symptoms to look out for.
1. Constant Tiredness
Excessive tiredness is one of the first iron deficiency symptoms to appear. The fatigue can come in both physical and mental forms, with breathlessness, a lack of energy, and ‘brain fog’ all common variations. Of course, there can be many other reasons for fatigue, but if you have no major sleep problems and no other underlying illness, then a lack of iron is one of the more likely explanations.
2. Restless Legs
Restless legs syndrome is the uncomfortable condition where you feel an irresistible urge to move your legs, most often while lying in bed. It can feel like a crawling sensation in the thigh and calf muscles, which has been memorably described as a ‘nausea of the legs’. Although the precise cause of restless legs isn’t known, it’s suspected that an iron deficiency is one factor, as it can reduce the amount of oxygen reaching your muscles as you lie in an otherwise relaxed state.
If you feel your heart is beating unusually quickly or with an irregular rhythm, especially when you’ve not been involved in any strenuous activity, then an iron deficiency is a potential cause. However, if these palpitations are a regular occurrence, then arranging a doctor’s appointment is wise to rule out anything more serious.
4. Skin Pallor
A mild lack of oxygen in the blood can cause pale skin, especially around the lower eyelids. The effect is easiest to see in people with naturally lighter complexions, but if there’s a marked difference in skin tone across different parts of your face, it’s another piece of evidence that your iron levels may be too low.
5. Hair Loss
Low iron levels can interfere with the health of hair follicles, preventing them from efficiently replacing the hair that naturally falls out every day. With lower replacement levels, the overall effect will be a thinner head of hair which can develop into noticeable hair loss over a longer period.
6. Strange Food Cravings
Almost any nutritional deficiency can lead to food cravings as your body tries to encourage a more balanced diet. However, with iron deficiency, you may start to crave inedible substances such as soil or metal, which is a clear sign that your nutritional needs aren’t being met.
7. Frequent Minor Illnesses
Lastly, iron plays an important role in a healthy immune system, and if your levels are low you’ll likely start to pick up all kinds of minor bugs and infections. If you seem to suffer from every ailment that goes around, then booking a checkup with your doctor is a good idea – you may be able to solve the problem with a simple diet change.
All of these individual symptoms can have multiple causes, but if you recognize several signs then an iron deficiency should be your first line of inquiry. Increasing your consumption of iron-rich foods such as red meat, dark leafy greens, eggs, seeds, and nuts can alleviate mild deficiencies surprisingly quickly. However, if dietary changes have no effect, then speak to your doctor to arrange a thorough investigation into the potential causes of your symptoms.