Essential for the balance of the body, iron ensures the transport of oxygen in the blood. What are the signs of iron deficiency, also called iron deficiency or iron deficiency? What are the causes ? What to do ?
The iron is a real player in the transfer of oxygen to the muscles. This is why when you lack iron, you can quickly feel very tired or feel a “spinning” sensation. How do we know if we are deficient? What to do ? Practical advice.
Iron deficiency (also called martial or iron-deficiency anemia) is manifested by several physical signs and first of all by unusual tiredness and decreased strength (stamina and energy). We also observe cognitive impairment, headache, palpitations, shortness of breath on exertion, dizziness and even a pallor of the skin when the iron deficiency is marked (we speak of iron deficiency anemia). Iron deficiencies can be due to hemorrhages (we consider that the periods are part of it) or to a diet too low in iron.
“Essential for the proper functioning of the body, iron is a real swiss army knife“, assures Laura Azenard, naturopath. It is used for the formation of hemoglobin and contributes to the myoglobin production (a protein similar to hemoglobin which is capable of transporting our oxygen supply to our muscles and which is involved in the constitution enzymes playing a key role in many metabolic reactions). “This antioxidant also participates in the drug detox, pesticides, pollutants and synthesizes catalase, an enzyme capable of countering free radicals (toxic molecules that cause premature aging of our cells). But beware, iron can be “pro-oxidant” if it is in excess“, continues the naturopath.
First of all, you should know that iron deficiency is much less common than that of magnesium. “Today, we can say that we are almost all deficient in magnesium. Iron deficiencies mainly concern women – particularly during menstruation or during pregnancy – growing children, vegans, but also “long-term” athletes such as marathon runners, but also all victims hemorrhage or disruption of the intestinal microbiota“, explains Laura Azenard, naturopath
- Visible (heavy periods, bleeding between periods) and invisible (digestive bleeding) blood loss.
- Insufficient iron intake through food (vegetarian or vegan diet).
- A chronic or autoimmune intestinal disease that causes iron malabsorption in the digestive tract.
These are the same as anemia, namely:
- Shortness of breath
- Changing the appearance of the nails
- Slightly more hair loss than usual
- Pale skin and mucous membranes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of motivation
- Decreased libido
“If you feel tired, tend to lose your hair, have a pale complexion, brittle and ridged nails, you experience migraines, memory problems, loss of attention, impatience in the legs (restless legs syndrome), abnormal shortness of breath during exercise or, if you are very often cold… You may have an iron deficiency“, indicates the naturopath. And an iron deficiency can lead to “iron deficiency anemia” which is characterized by a decrease in the number of red blood cells in the blood or in the hemoglobin content.
In iron deficiency, multiple blood tests of iron metabolism can be prescribed as the dosage of iron, ferritin – protein allowing the storage of iron -, transferrin (another protein which transports iron in the blood) and soluble transferrin receptors.
When an iron deficiency is suspected, the Haute Autorité de Santé firstly recommends the determination of serum ferritin. A low serum ferritin is sufficient to confirm the diagnosis of iron deficiency. The assay of other markers of iron metabolism is then not necessary. “The determination of ferritin consists of a blood test carried out in a medical analysis laboratory. The tube is centrifuged, machine run and then interpretation is provided based on the results. If the hemoglobin level is less than 12g/dL in women and 13g/dL in menthen anemia is demonstrated“, underlines Gaël Saintenoy.
The reference values for the determination of serum ferritin are as follows:
- In adult humans: 20 to 200 μg/l;
- In adult women before menopause: 10 to 125 μg/l
- In adult women after menopause: 20 to 200 μg/l.
“A ferritin level below the normal value with a normal CRP confirms the diagnosis of simple iron deficiency. Then we look at the MCV (Mean Globular Volume) and the hemoglobin, because they are the ones that give us the final level of iron deficiency. What happens from a physiopathological point of view is that we have a low ferritin stores so it is slowly decreasing. To compensate for the fact that the synthesis of hemoglobin is done less well, the red blood cells are smaller and smaller to be more and more concentrated. However, this leads to a decrease in MCV and hemoglobin,
leading to anemia“, comments the biologist.
“You should consult your doctor to prescribe a iron supplementation“, advises Gaël Saintenoy. You can also increase your iron intake through food by favoring foods that are rich in it : red meat, offal, fish, seafood, legumes, whole grains, sesame seeds, spirulina, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, parsley, dark chocolate or even spinach.
“That means we’re at onset of iron deficiency and that the damage is not yet significant enough to speak of anemia. Indeed, when we have a low ferritin level, it means that we have a proven iron deficiency but that we are not in anemia because it is signed by the drop in hemoglobin. “explains the specialist.
Lacking iron during pregnancy is common and perfectly normal. Nevertheless, it is important to prevent it in order to avoid excessive fatigue and allow the baby to develop properly. How ? By starting by integrating iron-rich foods into your diet or by taking supplements if your doctor deems it necessary.
Thanks to Gaël Saintenoy, biologist and Laura Azenard, naturopath.