Iron is an important mineral for our overall health and well-being. Iron forms haemoglobin in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the rest of the body. If iron levels fall too low, it causes iron deficiency anemia. If left untreated, iron deficiency can lead to serious health problems and can damage the organs. The good news is that in most cases, iron deficiency can be easily reversed with changes in diet and lifestyle.
1. Fatigue and weakness
Extreme tiredness or fatigue is one of the most common signs. Since there is less oxygen reaching your body, it affects your energy levels. You may feel sluggish, weak and find it difficult to focus.
2. Pale skin
Lack of iron means your skin loses its normal, healthy color, and may appear dull and chalky. Your gums, inside of your lips, and inside of your eyelids, may be paler than normal, which is a sign of anemia.
3. Shortness of breath and dizziness
With your body craving for more oxygen, you may feel out of breath more easily. You may find yourself winded or feel dizzy after doing simple tasks like climbing stairs, or walking short distances.
4. Headaches and difficulty in concentrating
Low iron levels result in your brain receiving less oxygen than it is normally used to. This may trigger more headaches and you may find yourself having difficulty in concentrating on simple tasks or feeling out of focus.
5. Changes to the tongue and cracks on the side of the mouth
Swelling or soreness of the tongue can be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. You may also notice cracks on the side of your mouth.
6. Cold hands and feet
Iron helps red blood cells deliver heat and nutrients to the rest of the body and with iron deficiency anemia, this may mean you’re more prone to feeling cold. You may notice it especially in your hands and feet that may feel colder than usual.
7. Brittle nails or spooning of the nails
If you notice your nails are thin and frail and break easily, it could be a sign of anemia. Another sign is a concave or spoon shaped depression in your nails.
Pica is a disorder where you have a craving for non-food substances that have no nutritional value like chalk, dirt, clay, baking soda or ice.
If you notice any or more of these signs and symptoms and think you have iron deficiency anemia, it is recommended you see a doctor. They may prescribe iron supplements or diet changes. A quick word of caution though: Never self-medicate with supplements – overloading your body with iron can also cause damage to organs like the liver. Along with supplements, you can consider incorporating more iron rich-foods in your diet, in consultation with your doctor. These foods include leafy vegetables, red meat, dried fruit, seafood, eggs, beans, peas as well as foods high in vitamin C to enhance iron absorption, like orange, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, melons. For more information on what to eat and on anemia, check this Mayo Clinic article.