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Iron is an essential body mineral included in a lot of physiological activities in the body. First and most important is its involvement in the transport of oxygen as a basic component in the hemoglobin. Except for its collaboration with the hemoglobin in the erythrocytes, the iron can also be found in every cell where it helps the electrons to move within the cell. Another of its functions, among many, is its role in the enzymes activity.

All of this only demonstrates the importance of keeping the level of iron in its optimal range, otherwise it can lead to developing many conditions, usually caused by its decreased level, also known as iron deficiency or anemia. This condition can be a consequence of an unhealthy life and diets, loosing blood for a longer period, unique situations like pregnancy, that need larger amount of iron, but sometimes the body itself has the difficulty to absorb the necessary amounts of iron.

As stated by the National Heart, Lung and Blood institute, there is a difference between the optimal amounts of iron need for men and women. Men’s daily need for iron is approximately 8 mg, and for women it is recommended about 18  mg a day. In cases like pregnancy, the daily amount needed for women carrying a child is increased up to 27 mg.

There are signs and symptoms that are indicators for iron insufficiency, and you can read all about them here.

1. Tiredness and Fatigue
The reason why low levels of iron cause fatigue and tiredness is the deficit of oxygen. This happens because the iron in the erythrocytes has a main role in the process of transporting the oxygen and with its absence this process is interrupted.
Along with the fatigue and tiredness, the iron deficiency affects the whole body and a general body health quality and body weakness can be detected.

A lot of studies have proven that supplements intake and adequate diet can improve this condition, especially with women of childbearing age. A particular study from 2012 published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal , included menstruating women with low levels of ferritin, a protein that serves as iron storage in the blood. The results of this study showed that by using supplements their fatigue has decreased.

2. Difficulties breathing
If you have difficulties breathing during everyday activities like walking, using stairs or lifting light objects, this may be a sign that you have iron deficiency. This shortness of breath occurs because of the lack of oxygen and it can be manifested as tolerable, but it also can get more intense, which should not be ignored, despite the fact that the normal breathing will be established after resting.

Breathing difficulty can also be associated with other conditions and diseases connected to the lungs heart and allergies, so it is the best to make some test to eliminate the differential diagnoses.

3. Pale skin
Iron deficiency also causes your skin to get pale because the hemoglobin who is responsible for the red color of the erythrocytes, cannot be synthesized in efficient amount. Since there is deficiency of the erythrocytes, the skin loses its rosy look, and the gums, the inside of the lips and the inside of the eyelids are affected as well.

4. Fragile Nails
Another warning that there is iron insufficiency in your body is the modified look on your nails. The can become pale and fragile, and even their shape can be changed from convex to concave.

Some studies point out that almost every nutrient deficiency including the iron deficiency interfere with nails growth and firmness, but there are other factors like extended usage of nail polish that contribute to such symptoms.

5. Hair Loss
When iron insufficiency occurs, the body needs to focus on the vital body functions, so it redirects every little source of iron left to join such processes. Due to this, there is not enough iron to support second rated functions like hair growth, so we face hair loss.

Most studies show that iron deficiency has a big contribution to hair loss occurrence, both telogen or pattern hair loss, and according to the study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science in 2013, it is mostly detected  in women’s  premenopausal period.

The best way to confirm that the cause of hair loss is iron deficiency is to test the level of ferritin in blood.

6. Craving Nonfood Substances
People who have eating disorders and have the need to eat non food substances, most likely have iron insufficiency. This condition is called Pica and can be caused by insufficiency of other nutrients as well. According to the study form 2010 published in the Journal of Case Reports, non food materials like ice, cornstarch, soap, baby powder and vacuum dust are the most common substances that pregnant teenagers with low amounts find consumable.

7. Cold sensitivity
Our body has the ability to adjust to temperature shifts by regulating the blood stream and thyroid activity. The erythrocytes in the blood are transferring the oxygen to every cell, promoting cell activity, which results in heat production. When the iron levels are low, it is difficult for the oxygen to be transported to the cell and subsequently the body can not respond to the low temperatures properly.

Additionally, the iron insufficiency affects the thyroid gland’s activity, thus the thyroid gland is not able to adjust to the temperature shift.

8. Headaches
The lack of oxygen in the brain as a result of iron insufficiency, leads to swelling arteries in the brain, which causes headache. These headaches are frequent and disturb the everyday activities.

The studies have shown that the anemia happens often to the women with pure menstrual migraines (PMM) and menstrually related migraines (MRM), but there are still not enough records of the collaboration between the estrogen, iron metabolism and dopamine dysfunction to reveal the migraines mechanism.

9. Psychological disorders
Iron deficiency and the lack of oxygen in the brain also affects all the cognitive, motor sensor and social-emotional functions, as well as it can cause a lot of psychological disorders. Depression is one of the mental states that can occur, but there are many more conditions like of unipolar depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, (ADHD), delayed development and mental retardation among children and adolescents.

Considering the fact that depression is not caused only by iron deficiency, and on the other hand, poor appetite, irritability, fatigue and mood swings are depression – like symptoms associated with the anemia, there are still more analysis that have to be made, to confirm the iron deficiency – psychological disorders causality.

10. Restless Legs Syndrome
This syndrome is associated with inadequate iron metabolism in some brain cells, which leads to developing it symptoms. It can be recognized by the uncontrollable urge to move your legs and uncomfortable sensations in your legs that prevent you from sleeping.

When the iron absorbing receptors of the cells are not controlled as they should be, dopamine is produced, which only increases the restless leg symptoms. However, with iron supplements intake, the symptoms of the restless legs syndrome can be reduced.

How to prevent iron deficiency:

1. Increase the cell iron levels consuming food with high levels of iron (beef, liver, beans, beetroot, spinach).
2. Food rich in vitamin C (berries, broccoli, peppers) can help with iron absorption, while coffee and tea only inhibit it.
3. If you decide to increase iron level with supplements you need a doctor’s advice first, to avoid possible side effects.
4. Don’t take too much iron, to avoid developing some conditions like diabetes, cardiac arrhythmias, liver cancer or internal organs damage.