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Is Low Iron a Root Cause of your Symptoms?

Updated: Feb 19

Iron deficiency is quite common amongst women I treat.

The main cause for this is low red meat intake, heavy menstrual bleeding and poor iron absorption due to digestive issues like food sensitivities and bacterial overgrowth (H. pylori & SIBO).

The obvious sign of iron deficiency is always feeling tired but this is a general symptom that is common in many other conditions such as thyroid disease, high stress immunodeficiency or vitamin deficiencies.

Other signs of iron deficiency include: brain fog, dizziness, lightheadedness, pale skin, fast heartbeat, weakness, restless legs at night, cold hands and feet, hair loss or thinning and brittle nails.

Sometimes symptoms of low iron can look like a low thyroid picture or a B vitamin deficiency. Bloodwork can help determine what the root cause of your symptoms are. As an ND, I can requisition bloodwork for you to determine the root cause of your issues.

There are several tests to check your iron status, but the most important marker is called ferritin. Ferritin tells us how much iron you are storing in your tissues. The reference range for ferritin is 12-300 ug/L and most doctors will tell you your iron "is fine" if you are within this range.

However, as an ND looking for your levels to be optimal, I suggest your ferritin be at least 50, if not closer to 80-100, especially if you experience hair loss.

Iron levels greater than 100 in women is not ideal either as it can indicate inflammation. Since the pandemic, we have been seeing a trend towards higher levels of ferritin due to the virus creating a cytokine storm and causing ferritin, an acute phase reactant, to increase. This does not mean that iron levels are optimal. It means that the ferritin is falsely elevated and we need to investigate whether or not iron supplementation would be appropriate.

If your iron is at optimal range but you're not feeling that great, the next step is to determine if there is any underlying thyroid condition, gut malabsorption issue, gut bacterial overgrowth, chronic viral infection, sex hormone imbalance or vitamin/mineral/protein deficiency. As a former vegetarian, I am fascinated at how red meat can be used medicinally to not only improve iron stores but also to improve body composition (more about this in a future blog).

There are different sources of iron that I recommend depending on the root cause of your iron deficiency. Iron is a mineral whose absorption is highly regulated and difficult to absorb. This is why high doses of iron can lead to constipation. Heme iron is excellent for people who don’t absorb iron well because we actually have a unique heme iron transporter that specifically transports heme iron from the intestine to the inside of the cells.  In certain cases, I refer patients to get intravenous iron infusions, which can increase iron levels extremely quickly.

There are some cases where patients with low ferritin feel worse when they take an iron supplement. This is most likely due to a bacterial or viral infection (acute or chronic such as EBC, CMV or COVID) that is using the iron for themselves (microbes use iron to replicate). More on this in a later blog.

If you are not sure if you should be taking an iron supplement, not sure which one, or not sure if there’s something else going on besides low iron, I am happy to help clarify the situation.

Head over to my online schedule to book a 15-minute complimentary Discovery Call.

Disclaimer: All content in this blog is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.

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