If you have been suffering with fatigue, feeling run-down and generally under the weather, then, like mother-of-four and Loose Woman star Stacey Solomon discovered, your iron levels may be the culprit.
Iron is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the UK and is most prevalent amongst women. In fact, recent studies show that 29 percent of non-pregnant women and 38 percent of pregnant women are affected by it.
Stacey, like so many other women, was quietly battling symptoms of iron deficiency without knowing what it was, and, even after being diagnosed, struggled to find the support she needed.
“I found that when it comes to women’s health you get this one flat baseline and they say to you, ‘oh well, you’re only a little bit under, you’ll be fine,’ and I’ll be like, ‘but I feel like I’m dying!’ Stacey says.
“When you’re telling someone how your body’s feeling and they are not responding because they’re just looking at this one level baseline, it can be really frustrating,” she adds.
We all know the feeling; pleading with your healthcare provider about symptoms you’re experiencing and feeling like you’re not being taken seriously. But, by educating ourselves about health and nutrition, we can stay in the driver’s seat of our bodies.
How can I know if I have low iron?
For a diagnosis of iron deficiency, your doctor will need to perform a complete blood count (CBC). If a decreased level of hemoglobin is found in your red blood cells, then you have iron-deficiency anemia.
Hemoglobin is the protein in your blood that carries oxygen to your tissues. When your body doesn’t make enough iron, hemoglobin levels decrease and your body can’t get the amount of oxygen it needs.
This is why iron deficiency can leave us feeling extremely tired, weakened, short of breath and pale. Other symptoms can include dizziness, cold hands and feet, brittle nails and strange cravings for food with no nutritional value (such as, ice and charcoal).
If you think you may have low iron, you should speak to your healthcare provider to ask for a test before changing your diet or supplementing.
Why is anemia more prevalent in women?
For most women, fluctuations in energy levels and mood are a normal part of life caused by changes in hormonal levels throughout the menstrual cycle. But iron deficiency is still something to watch out for, as women are more at risk of falling low due to menstruation and pregnancy.
A typical period lasts for four to five days and the amount of blood lost ranges from two to three tablespoons. However, women with excess menstrual bleeding typically bleed for more than seven days and lose twice as much blood as normal, which can lead to iron-deficiency anemia.
Pregnancy also increases the risk, as the body needs to make more iron during this time to create enough iron for the baby. This was the case for Stacey, but unfortunately even with a diagnosis, she found it difficult to treat.
“It was only since having my first baby when I learnt about my blood levels and iron deficiency, I found out that I fluctuate around the baseline for iron levels,” says Stacey.
“Whenever I get pregnant, I make it just below the line. Then they give you [a supplement with] so much iron and is so strong, I was constipated for like a week. My poo was jet black!
“It’s the worst, and you just think ‘I don’t want to take it’. Before finding a suitable supplement, the options were to either be very constipated or so tired that you can’t get out of bed,” Stacey says.
How do I up my iron levels?
The best way to support your iron intake is through your diet, by consuming iron-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, red meat, leafy green vegetables, dried fruit and legumes.
“Humans absorb iron better from animal sources than they do from plants,” explains Dr Dawn Harper, TV medic (drdawn.com).
“We assimilate anything between five to 35 percent of the iron we eat. Dairy products, antacids and tannins in tea and coffee may reduce absorption, while vitamin C is proven to aid the process.”
If you are diagnosed with low iron levels, your doctor may recommend you take an iron supplement, as these offer an excellent solution for those who struggle to meet their iron requirements through diet alone.
“With low iron being a frustration for many women, it’s great to know that there are supplements available,” says Stacey. “I’ve always ended up with supplements, like Active Iron. Thank goodness there are things like this on the market,” she adds.
Active Iron’s range of supplements provide a ground-breaking protein formula which targets the body’s natural site of iron absorption, the DMT-1, increasing the amount of iron absorbed. Active Iron says it is six times less likely to cause gut irritation compared to other iron supplements, meaning it’s kind on the stomach.
When iron levels have increased naturally or through a helping hand with supplements, key changes include an increase in energy levels, better concentration, and a healthier immune system.