Iron Deficiency and What it Means for You
Updated: Apr 15
Yes, iron deficiency is common, but that does not mean it is normal.
When you’re deficient in iron, your cells are simply not getting enough oxygen, and that can make it difficult to perform otherwise simple tasks. What are some symptoms of iron deficiency? They may start with not-so-in-your-face things like dizziness, shortness of breath, and rapid heart rate. Disclaimer: The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to replace individualized recommendations from a health practitioner. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes to your treatment plan.
Why Do We Need Iron?
Iron is an essential mineral for the human body, but it has to be supplemented from the outside as the body cannot make it. Its main purpose is to carry oxygen from our lungs, via red blood cells, o other cells throughout the body. When there is enough oxygen, all is good and the cells can get their job done. However, when our cells aren’t getting enough oxygen, essentially when we’re iron deficient, they won’t be able to produce enough energy to perform their tasks well and their performance will decrease. Just like when you go to a place at a higher elevation and all of a sudden you feel more tired or unwell? That’s because oxygen is less available. Your cells experience the same at a cellular level when you have an iron deficiency. Not all iron is created equal. (Keep on reading vegan friends) The type of iron you’re consuming is going to be an important factor in evaluating whether or not you’re getting sufficient levels of iron to support your body’s needs. There are two main types of iron: heme, or animal-based iron, and non-heme, or plant-based iron. Heme iron is better absorbed and utilized by our bodies than non-heme iron. This is why foods like red meat and liver are known as great sources of iron. And this is also why it’s more challenging to keep iron levels up on a vegetarian or vegan diet. The best heme sources of iron come from animal protein (especially red meat), organ meats (like grass-fed liver), and seafood (especially shellfish). And some quality sources of non-heme iron are dark leafy greens, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. Including a wide variety of these iron-containing foods in your diet is really the way to go.
Iron Deficiency symptoms
Any of these sound familiar?
Lightheadedness (especially when standing up)
Shortness of breath
If you experience one or more of these symptoms “on the reg” it’s probably a good idea to get tested.
Thyroid Health and Iron Deficiency
Perhaps you thought it was your thyroid, but it turned out to be iron deficiency? This is because the symptoms of hypothyroidism and iron deficiency are very much alike. I see this very often with my clients. They are having symptoms, labs are normal (even on the functional panel) but they are still not feeling great and think they need more thyroid medication. We dig deeper and the symptoms that one could interpret as sluggish thyroid is actually an iron issue.
Hypothyroid symptoms can include:
Fatigue, dry skin, increased sensitivity to cold, hair loss, constipation, weight gain. Sound familiar? Indeed, they are pretty similar to the symptoms of iron deficiency. And that is why we can't just chase symptoms! We need to get to the bottom of them. I always want to see iron levels on my hypo clients!
Iron is a necessary component of healthy thyroid function and is needed to allow active thyroid hormone into your cells. When you can’t get enough oxygen or thyroid hormone into your cells, you’re going to feel tired and slow.
Treating both hypothyroidism and iron deficiency often resolves symptoms in cases where treating just the thyroid condition alone does not. 
And remember, it is not just a matter of popping some iron pills. Without addressing the root cause of why your iron is low, all the iron supplements and iron-containing foods in the world won’t help correct iron deficiency. Sometimes, your iron deficiency is actually the result of your body trying to protect itself. Pathogens love iron too! And it is not uncommon for the body to lower iron availability so that those critters can’t grow…
Bottom line: If you’ve already dialed in your diet and even tried supplementing with iron, but still can’t figure out why your levels aren’t improving, you might need to dig a little deeper. Your body is smart and is always trying to protect you. There are no mistakes, just clues to be uncovered.
Testing Iron Deficiency
Testing for iron deficiency is pretty straightforward. Your primary care physician should be able to order it and insurance should cover it.
Just make sure that you also get a complete blood count (CBC) and an iron panel that includes ferritin as well. Things do not occur in a vacuum and having the big picture is a must!
On the CBC panel, you will know the health of your red blood cells, red blood cell count, hemoglobin, volume, and other fun things that will point out the likelihood of an iron deficiency anemia. (There are other types of anemia as well.)
The iron panel will reveal more insights about why you have an iron deficiency to begin with and how much storage your body has to work with. Low Ferritin indicates iron deficiency.
Why might you have Iron Deficiency?
There are quite a few reasons why iron levels can be low. Here are a few common causes I see in my practice:
1. DIGESTIVE ISSUES
Something preventing your body from absorbing nutrients from the foods you are eating
Digestive insufficiency is really just an umbrella term for a host of digestive issues that keep you from absorbing the nutrients from your food properly. No matter how much is available, it is not making its way into your cells. BIG CULPRITS - Low stomach acid  - Bacterial overgrowth (As I mentioned above, some gut bugs actually consume iron and steal it from you!)  - Autoimmune Disease (Celiac Disease ) Once these underlying gut imbalances are addressed, you’re more likely to see an increase in your iron levels from simply eating iron-rich foods.
2. BLOOD LOSS
Some hormonal imbalances may cause you to have heavy periods. Going through a pad every hour and bleeding for several days? This could deplete your iron stores. Again, common but not normal. You should investigate why your periods are heavy. In the meantime, eating plenty of iron-containing foods along with vitamin C foods is critical to preventing you from developing iron deficiency anemia. 
3. MINERAL IMBALANCES
Minerals work in synergy with each other. Meaning there must be a proper ratio or balance between them. Some minerals push others out of balance when in excess, while others prevent absorption. The best way to know that is to test. Those are the most common ones I see in my practice. Of course, there are others as well and they all need to be investigated. Never silence your body’s cry for help. That’s why the solution is not to take an iron supplement and cross your fingers!
If you just can’t seem to bring your iron levels up, I suggest teaming up with a practitioner (like me!) to help get to the root of this imbalance!
Now that we determined your Iron is low, what do we do?
I always start with a “food first approach”, making sure you are actually consuming good sources of iron and that your body is able to absorb them. It is also important to make sure you are consuming enough of the co-factors that will naturally enhance absorption. Therefore, rule number 1: fix your gut and eat good foods. There’s a lot of synergy between different nutrients, and no one knows more than Mother Nature! So let’s now reinvent the wheel - yes, the best food sources of iron for efficiently correcting a deficiency are animal products.
IRON BOOSTING DIET
Animal products are really the best way to go.
Red meat, liver, and shellfish are some of the highest sources of heme iron found in nature. Including a few servings of these foods a week can help boost your iron levels if they’re low. Also, combining iron-rich foods with a source of Vitamin C can help improve iron absorption. So, simple things like cooking spinach in freshly squeezed lemon juice, or serving your steak with a citrus glaze can help your body naturally absorb more iron. Cooking in a cast-iron skillet can also help to boost the iron content of your food. Ideally, you would be able to improve your iron levels using food and food preparation techniques. But, with that being said, sometimes there is no way around supplementation, especially if iron levels are really low. Iron supplements can be pretty constipating. If based on your lab results you really need to supplement, my favorites are:
Grass Fed Organ Complex - use code yogi10 for discount
Organ meats such as liver, heart, and kidneys are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world. But not everyone has the palate for it. So this one comes in capsule form and is really great!
Grass-fed liver is one of the best sources of iron since it already contains many of the cofactors that help with absorption.
If you are definitely not into organ meats, this one is good because it contains iron in the form of iron bisglycinate. This form of iron is easier on your stomach and co-factors in the supplement to help increase absorption and add extra nutrients. Still, caution is warranted since iron is a hard pill to swallow - pun intended!
Therefore, be smart, seek help from an experienced practitioner that can guide you so you don’t spend time, energy, and money tinkering around.
Don’t despair! If you need some help correcting this, feel free to schedule a DISCOVERY CALL with me and we can discuss how to tackle this iron deficiency once and for all!
apply for a 30 minute complimentary Discovery Call Here.
Isabela Fortes is a
Board Certified Holistic Health Expert, Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher Level II
Certified Yoga Therapist
She teaches and works with clients in Southern California and Virtually anywhere in the world.
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