Is Iron Deficiency Weakening Your Immune System And Causing Fatigue?
Iron deficiency remains the leading nutrient deficiency in the world, including Canada.
Severe iron deficiency results in anemia (abnormal red blood cell appearance), as iron is required to make a key part of hemoglobin within red blood cells, which transports oxygen to our tissues. Signs of iron deficiency anemia include excessive fatigue, decreased appetite, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, hair loss, cold hands and feet, sore tongue, easy bruising, brittle or sore nails, and some other signs and symptoms. Blood tests for iron deficiency show a low serum ferritin (protein bound to iron in the blood) and a very low hemoglobin count. Medical doctors are very good at identifying iron deficiency once it reaches the stage of anemia. However, many women, during their child-bearing years, do not have iron deficiency anemia, but are walking around with Early Stage Iron Deficiency due to the blood loss that occurs with menstruation.
Early Stage Iron Deficiency
Early symptoms of iron deficiency often involve frequent infections such as colds, since iron is necessary for normal immune function. Some individuals feel cold as a result of reduced body temperature regulation. Frequent headaches and constant fatigue are also common features of early stage iron deficiency. Iron deficiency may even aggravate or trigger bouts of depression. I generally become concerned about iron deficiency in women that have any combination of these symptoms, if they exhibit a serum ferritin level between12 and 20 ug/L (micrograms per liter). A level below 12 ug/L indicates depletion of the body’s iron stores, which will eventually result in anemia.
What To Do
If you have any of the above symptoms ask your doctor to perform blood tests for iron deficiency. If you don’t have anemia, but your serum ferritin is between 12 and 20 ug/L, you would be wise to consume more iron-rich foods and take a supplement to help support your iron status. I am not a fan of recommending red meat or organ meats to patients. In these cases I do allow the dark meat of chicken and turkey, which provide appreciable amounts of heme iron, which is the most bioavailable form. Iron can also be obtained from non-heme sources such as fortified cereals and breads, beans, tofu, dried fruits, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables like spinach.
Ask any woman and she will tell you iron supplements are constipating. Not to mention that they are not well absorbed. In recent years a new supplement has entered the marketplace, which is a chelated iron. This means the iron is attached to two glycine molecules (glycine is an amino acid). This new form of iron resembles the iron found in meat (heme iron), which is highly bioavailable. Studies have shown that this new chelated iron is four times as bioavailable as are inorganic iron supplements, such as ferrous sulfate, and can raise serum ferritin levels to a significant degree. Not only that, but it is not constipating.
In my view, cases of early stage iron deficiency should be managed by using the dietary measures mentioned above, in conjunction with the ingestion of a supplement containing 45 mg of iron chelate (iron bound to glycine known as Ferrous Bisglycinate Chelate) in a formula that also provides other nutrients that support red blood cell and hemoglobin synthesis (Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B2, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, Copper). Taking two capsules per day until serum ferritin levels are above 20 ug/L is a typical protocol. Remaining on one capsule per day, thereafter, may guard against relapse to an iron deficient state in the future.