Why am I experiencing low energy and fatigue?
Here’s the deal; women ask me all the time about how to combat their fatigue and exhaustion. Specifically, it’s busy middle-aged women who seem to struggle the most. So what’s really going on here?
I could write a whole book about what the problems may be and I’d be happy to investigate potential root causes with anyone. However, I’m only going to address one potential problem here and that is iron.
Let’s talk about iron. Don’t be confused; low iron is not the end-all-be-all of every woman’s problem when it comes to excessive fatigue. However, it can be a leading factor, and it’s really common.
WHAT DOES IRON DO IN THE BODY?
To understand how iron deficiency leads to fatigue and other common concerns, we have to understand what the role of iron is in the body. I’ll try to not get too boring and scientific and just keep it simple.
Iron helps create red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. If iron is low then every cell in the body becomes oxygen deficient. When oxygen deficient, the cells can’t function at the highest potential, often resulting in fatigue.
As a health professional, one of the common problems I see with my clients is their body’s inability to absorb minerals and nutrients from food. There are a variety of reasons for that phenomenon but let’s not get side tracked here; we’re talking about iron.
For some people, this deficiency means they may need to use supplements. However, before we all jump on the supplement bandwagon, I want to be sure to address the appropriate use of supplements.
Supplements ideally should be a short-term solution and secondary to correcting the root cause of the internal problem that is affecting the iron levels in the first place. I recommend the use of supplements for the following reasons.
- To temporarily supplement an existing supply,
- To stimulate the body to produce/absorb more, or
- To support body functions required to achieve desired results.
WHAT CAUSES IRON DEFICIENCY?
I won’t begin to say that I’m an expert on all causes of iron deficiency, but I may know a thing or two about the most common causes, so allow me to share.
It’s fair to say that anytime there is excessive blood loss, then we are losing iron since this is where the body uses and stores it. Women with excessive blood loss as part of their monthly cycle, individuals who donate blood frequently, and people with slow internal blood loss such as ulcers can experience iron deficiency.
The job of our intestinal system is to break down and absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. Like I mentioned, there can be a variety of reasons for this not happening correctly. However, just knowing gut issues are a factor, allows us to see how individuals with absorption problems, such as Crohne’s, Celiac, and Colitis may be affected by iron deficiency. Other, less commonly thought of factors may be gastric bypass and the use of over-the-counter medications that prevent absorption such as a regular use of antacids. If you know you have gut issues that maybe are not being fully addressed by your doctor, I’d be happy to help, it’s what I do!
Plant Based Diets
I’ll be the first to tell you that I know a lot of people that have seen amazing weight loss and chronic conditions improved through plant based diets. I’ll also tell you that if not done correctly, plant based diets can lead to iron deficiency. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not here to be down on plant-based dieters, vegetarians, vegans or anything of the sorts. I’m just saying that a huge source of iron in food comes from animal based products so if you’re not eating them, you may find yourself deficient. The other factor here is that our body doesn’t absorb iron from plant sources as well as from animal sources. And that’s just the facts, Jack!
A Need for Excess
I’m going to put two things in this category and bear with me because they really aren’t related but it’ll make sense in a minute. The first thing here is expecting mothers. Mother’s have a need for excess iron because they are busy growing a human, which takes more blood. The fetus needs to have blood too and so as it grows, mamma needs extra resources. The second thing is people who have intense exercise routines. Iron is also used to convert sugar into energy in the muscles, so someone who has intense workouts may find they also have a need for more iron for conversion purposes. Ongoing intense workouts can lead to other issues besides low iron, but we’ll save that for another post, another day.
I think that covers that topic fairly well. We can always find more rare causes. If you feel you may be low in iron, you may want to have some lab work run and check out where your levels are.
I caution taking lab reference ranges as a solid line of acceptance though, just maybe use the results to see where you’re trending, on the higher end or lower end of normal. If you don’t want to see you doctor, you can actually order the labs privately through companies like Direct Labs and Health Labs.
WHAT ARE IRON DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS IN WOMEN?
So here’s the million-dollar question, what exactly are signs of iron deficiency?
If you’ve ever been told you can’t give blood because you are anemic, that’s one sign that you may be iron deficient. Though anemia can happen for more than one reason and low iron is only one of them. Also, anemia can be temporary, again going back to the short-term blood loss thing mentioned earlier.
Some other common symptoms of low iron can be shortness of breath and increased heart rate. Though these can be signs of any number of health situations.
Cold hands and feet along with brittle nails and hair loss, also signs of thyroid dysfunction but not solely associated, can be indicators of iron deficiency.
Sores in the corner of the mouth, a sore tongue and difficulty swallowing (often because of said sore/swollen tongue) are telltale signs of iron deficiency.
Lastly, and my personal favorite, cravings for things like clay and dirt; I know, it kind of takes you back to your toddler days. Don’t worry, if you’ve been craving a little fertilized soil lately, it may be an iron deficiency and not a mental health disorder!
IRON DEFICIENCY TREATMENT
And the most important part of all this, how the heck do you fix an iron deficiency?
Iron Rich Foods
My favorite way to suggest is to address it by eating some iron rich foods.
Go out, order a nice appetizer of mussels followed by a solid lean cut of steak, baked potato (and please eat the skin), broccoli and a dark leafy green salad. It sounds like a lovely meal to me, but it may not be for everyone.
In all fairness though, mussels and clams are great sources of iron and so is red meat. These aren’t the only sources though so if you like to stick to lighter proteins, feel free to order your chicken, lamb, or fish; it has iron in it too.
Other good plant sources are legumes, dark leafy greens, broccoli, nuts and seeds, and even tofu. Keep in mind, paring these foods with an animal based source will allow for better absorption.
I do want to make one little note here, in case you don’t take my word for it and you go searching for other sources; for general health reasons, which we can go into later, let’s maybe avoid sources like cereals with added iron and a bunch of processed grains. Just because you can find iron there, doesn’t mean you should.
Adding iron rich foods is okay, if you don’t have an absorption issue. However, since I don’t know your situation, I’ll go ahead and give you a couple of supplemental options for self-care if you choose.
If you are looking for a supplement check out Gaia Plant Force Liquid Iron. I like this brand because it’s herbal, which means it comes from herbs and food sources. It’s also great for those who don’t like capsules because it’s a liquid. And, since my iron deficient friends may be all plant-based, it is a vegetarian product, which also is free of wheat, gluten and yeast.
I also like Karuna Iron Plus. It’s a capsule form for those that who prefer a solid supplement. It’s also free from all the yucky stuff like wheat, gluten, yeast, soy, dairy, corn, sugar, and other processed things that are terrible like hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, and preservatives.
All product recommendations should be taken as such, a recommendation. A recommendation does not replace a consultation with your doctor about the appropriateness of starting or adding any supplement to your regimen. If you plan to add, subtract, or modify your supplement routine, please consult your doctor before doing so.
I also encourage you to start slow. Keeping in mind that too much iron can be just as bad, if not worse, than not enough. Iron supplements should not be given to children under six years of age. Please take only as directed.
I hope you’ve found this helpful and informative. If you find that an iron supplement doesn’t effect your exhaustion in the least, then please be sure to explore other root causes that may be deeper than a simple iron deficiency.
All the best,