Top Signs of Iron Deficiency and How To Increase Iron Levels In Your Blood

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Did you know that iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States? Iron is a mineral that helps you get enough oxygen throughout your body. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin which is part of the red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body.

If you don’t get enough iron, your body cannot get enough oxygen, and you will eventually develop anemia. Anemia can occur due to a shortage of two key nutrients in our bodies: vitamin B12 (and folic acid) and/or iron. Iron is also an important part of many enzymes in our body and is required in many cell functions.

This article will discuss the symptoms of anemia, as well as how to increase iron levels in your blood through nutrition and supplements. It will also include tips of how to improve iron absorption and which supplements are better for you.

Causes of iron deficiency

– Not getting enough iron from food. People who don’t eat meat may be at risk of iron deficiency if they don’t get enough iron from other foods.
– Inability to absorb iron due to diseases like celiac disease or if part of your small intestine has been removed
– Heavy bleeding, such as heavy periods or bleeding inside the body as in peptic ulcers or colorectal cancer.
– Pregnancy – many pregnant women suffer from iron deficiency as their iron needs to serve not only their own increased blood volume, but their growing fetus as well.
– Many people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) develop iron deficiency.

What are the symptoms of anemia?

When anemia become worse over time, symptoms include:

– Fatigue
– Dizziness
– Lack of concentration
– Headaches
– Irritability
– Shortness of breath
– Pale skin
– Delay normal growth and development in children
– Higher risk of infections
– Premature births and low birth weight babies
– Brittle nails
– Rapid or irregular heartbeat which can lead to heart problems

How much iron do we need to consume a day?

The recommended daily amount is 18 mg of iron a day for woman of reproductive age, 27 mg for pregnant women and 8 mg per day for men. Breastfeeding women can consume 9 mg a day since there is no menstruation during this period. Girls aged 14-18 need 15 mg of iron per day.

Which foods contain iron?

Food sources of iron are divided into two groups:
• Animal source – red meat, poultry, internal parts (such as heart and liver), eggs yolks and seafood.
• Vegetable source – the richest in iron are legumes, nuts and almonds, tahini, dried fruit, and green leafy vegetables such as parsley.

There are also iron-fortified foods like cereals or bread.

How to improve iron absorption?

To improve iron absorption from vegetable sources you need to consume it with vitamin C, such as in fresh vegetables. For example, you can eat lentil soup with chopped parsley and red pepper (capsicum) which are full of vitamin C. As a snack, you should choose walnuts and almonds.

This is because plant foods are different from animal foods when it comes to their iron content. In animal foods, iron is often attached to proteins called heme proteins, and referred to as heme iron. In plant foods, the iron is not attached to heme proteins and is classified as non-heme iron. The absorption rate of heme iron is usually higher and more efficient than that of non-heme iron.

What about iron supplements?

If you have anemia, after you’ve found the reason, you should consider taking iron supplements, and not just rely on nutrition. If you take dietary supplements in general, and in particular those of iron, you should consult your doctor, just like you do before taking medications.

In general, an iron supplement can come in several forms: capsule, syrup and intravenous infusion (in cases of indigestion and lack of absorption as in certain cases of intestinal diseases, cancer, etc.).

Which supplement is better?

It’s better to choose the supplement that will enable you to achieve maximum iron absorption, with minimal side effects. Possible side effects of taking iron supplements are abdominal pain

These effects are much smaller if taking liquid supplements. Iron absorption of liquid supplement is far easier for the digestive system, and therefore has less side effects. In addition, you should take supplement whose iron absorption is coordinated with the body: iron taken in excess can cause damage – iron molecule may oxidize and act like free radicals that damage DNA.

What can interfere with iron absorption?

  • Oxalic acid found in many green vegetables may delay the absorption of iron. For example: spinach is very rich in oxalic acid which binds to the iron and interferes with iron absorption in the intestine.
  • Even phytic acid, which is found mostly in whole grains, may interfere with iron absorption. So although whole grains are a good source of iron themselves, the phytic acid they contain can stop your body absorbing iron from other foods and supplements.
  • Also drinking tea, coffee, and chocolate interfere with iron absorption due to the high content of polyphenols, as well as calcium like in dairy products.

So the best way is to take an iron supplement along with eating a vegetable/fruit rich in vitamin C such as kiwifruit, orange, guava, strawberry, red pepper (capsicum) and apple.

Berries are especially high in vitamin C, and you can find easy and nutritious berry recipes in my e-book The Healing Berry Guide. This e-book will teach you how to transform your health with berries and their amazing health benefits.

There are other warning signs that can indicate a health problem:

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37 Responses to Top Signs of Iron Deficiency and How To Increase Iron Levels In Your Blood

  1. Jasna says:


    I’ve just read your article and i have remembered that in my fridge i got something i made to increase iron in my blood. It’s a receipt my mother gave me and it’s very good.

    You need:
    250g nettle seeds
    250g raw almond (grind)
    700-800g meadow honey
    7-8 lemons juice

    You mix it all in one big jar and place it in a fridge. Take 2-3 teaspoons once a day before the meal. It’s healthy and yummi 🙂

    (Since this is a big quantity you might want to start with smaller, i used only 70g of nettle seeds that i’ve had at home)

    I hope you like it 🙂

  2. Christina Carsrud says:

    I would like to email this article to a friend that is not on facebook, how do I do this

  3. Joyce Schafers says:

    The Floradix supplement by Flora is an excellent liquid organic supplement made with natural ingredients. I gave it to my premature newborn and her iron levels balanced out within a couple of days. And the best part….it’s not a synthetic supplement. YAY! Also, organic black strap molasses is excellent too.

  4. Terry says:

    The two highest plant based foods to eat for iron are wild nori seaweed and wild dulse seaweed. You can get both of these radiation free seaweeds from Ocean Harvest at

  5. Rita says:

    I am curious why you didn’t mention cooking acidic food such as tomatoes in an iron skillet. I have always been told Iron skillets add iron to your meals.

    • Jenny says:

      You are right Rita in what you say, but I’ve read that there is a question whether the iron was able to be absorbed into the blood stream in a functional way (read more about it here – and some people caution from excess amount of iron which can cause damage to the body, so I’m not really sure.

  6. Sally says:

    Apricots are a good source of iron for vegans.

  7. Bala krishna Reddy . V.M says:

    It is very , very useful article and advice to all of us. And it is very useful to all women . Thank you sir .

  8. rabiya says:

    Helpful article

  9. Barbara says:

    What do you do if some one is on tube feeding 24/7. And nothing but clear liquids by mouth. How do you increase blood levels with this situation????

    • Jenny says:

      I’m not sure Barbara. Obviously this person has a special medical condition and that requires a medical consultation.

  10. Amita kini. says:

    Very useful and informative article. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Kel says:

    Do not bleed while breast feeding? I have endometriosis and bleed every month, heavily, while exclusively breast feeding for seven months.

  12. Just absolute great message for every one

  13. Janet says:

    If you suspect you are low in iron you should tell your doctor and request a blood test. As you said, if you don’t need the extra iron but take to much it can be damaging. My husband had to be tested because his liver enzymes were elevated. Sometimes self diagnosing ourselves can be dangerous, especially if it affects our liver! I would not supplement without not being sure I needed it. It’s not the risk!!

  14. bob says:

    My wife has ovarian cancer,she was told she is anemic and needs iron what specfic food are the best for this type of disease.

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Bob, food sources of iron are divided into two groups: animal source like red meat, poultry, internal parts (such as heart and liver), eggs yolks and seafood, and vegetable source such as legumes, nuts and almonds, tahini, dried fruit, and green leafy vegetables such as parsley. There are also iron-fortified foods like cereals or bread. I’m don’t know if your wife has any food restrictions due to her condition, but I guess it’s best to consult with her doctor to be on the safe side of things. Wishing your wife a full and quick recovery.

  15. Stacy says:

    this whole article is confusing. I suffer from iron deficiency. Every 4-6months I have to get an iron transfusion as a result. In the meantime, I cook in an iron skillet, take sublingual b-12, plant based vitamins, fish oil, raw nuts ands seeds, an occasion steak, but mostly a green leafy diet as it’s very high in iron. I can’t take iron supplements as the give me severe gas, stomach pains and constipation.
    So, I’m confused about the green leafy vegetables preventing the absorption of iron even though it’s high in iron. Are you saying all these veggies I eat are for nothing? Also, you mentioned eating vitamin c fruit with an iron supplement. I know that this makes iron easier on the stomach, but would this help with the iron in leafy greens? I drink alit of green smoothies that has Vit c rich fruit in it- does that help with the iron absorbtion?

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Stacy, as mentioned in the article, plant foods are inferior when it comes to iron absorption in comparison to animal foods. This is because in animal foods iron is often attached to proteins called heme proteins, and referred to as heme iron. In plant foods, the iron is not attached to heme proteins and is classified as non-heme iron. The absorption rate of heme iron (animal food) is usually higher and more efficient than that of non-heme iron (plant based foods). Some plant base foods are not rich enough in vitamin C, hence the recommendation to add vitamin C to aid iron absorption (the example of lentil soup with chopped parsley and red pepper). As for leafy greens, fortunately, many vegetables, such as broccoli and bok choy, which are high in iron, are also high in vitamin C so that the iron in these foods is very well absorbed.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Stacey, may I make a few suggestions for you and anyone else in a similar position. Anyone with iron deficiency should be checked for MTHFR.. It’s a gene mutation that affects how our body processes b12 and folate. If you have the gene mutations you cannot process folic acid and synthetic forms of the b vitamins. This all affects how you absorb iron as well. I struggled with my iron for 20 years until I found out that I had this issue. I have since started taking supplements with the methylated forms of b and an organic iron and my levels are heading back to normal for the first time in 20 years. My biggest issue now is heavy periods but I’m better able to keep on top of it most of the time since changing supplements. If you have the genes, they will also have to review the type of infusion you are given. Hope this helps.

    • Brittney says:

      If your iron to low can that be reason I can’t get pregnant

  16. Suzan says:

    Hi, thanks for sharing this article. However, I read somewhere that spinach is a rich source of iron but you haven’t mentioned anything about spinach in that sense. Also, my aunt frequently suffers both from either haemoglobin deficiency or iron deficiency despite taking proper diet . She takes iron supplements, but every once in a while her iron level is found below normal. Do you think she is suffering from a serious disease?

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Suzan, there are 2 issues with spinach: 1. the iron in spinach is non-heme iron which is not absorbed as efficiently as heme iron found in meat and animal sources. Adding vitamin C will help with the iron absorption. 2. the oxalic acid in spinach binds with iron, which further inhibits iron absorption. Read more about it in Livestrong website. I don’t know about the second question (I’m not a doctor) and don’t have enough knowledge about it. Best to get a proper medical advice from a doctor.

  17. Shannon says:

    I suffer from iron deficiency. Every 4-6months I have to get an iron transfusion as a result.My Doctor has now told me that because of my heavy periods that he will not do Iron shots, Iron Infusions or Iron Transfusion anymore because my body is losing more blood then it is making. I feel so sick and helpless now and don’t know what to do. My Doctor has given me a short list of choices but they all suck. He suggested hormone pills but also said the would react with other medications I take so I don’t think that is a good idea for me. He also suggested birth control pills or IUD, I am in my late 30s and still want the option of having kids, those options will not work for me either. The last option was to remove my uterus,cervix or both, I do not want to do that at all. I am upset, and don’t know what to do, I have been reading up on natural ways to get more Iron and make my periods less heavy but have found nothing so far. I am so sick now, I have to make a decision soon but hate all the options I have. If anyone has any suggestions it would be greatly appreciated.

    • Giuliana says:

      Shannon, try blackstrap molasses. Put a tablespoon of it in a cup of hot water and drink as tea, ypu can add a little milk, though almond milk would be better. Dairy in cow’s milk interferes with iron absorption. I have used blackstrap molasses for heavy periods (it actually helps to lessen the flow) and it has iron, magnesium and potassium. I was severely anemic years ago and in 3 months my iron levels were up to normal. Also used it while I was pregnant and still use wh r never periods are heavy. Have you tried supplements? Sorry, I didn’t get that part. Well, if you are sensitive to them as most people are, you may want to try Blood Builder by Mega food. As soon as I started it, I felt like I had more energy and iron level went up. I have history of anemia due to heavy periods as well. Hope this helps a little. Good luck.

    • He is an on time God says:

      I have used Black strap molasses for a while and it really does work. You need to use organic unsulphered BSM. You will bleed more with sulpher.

  18. juliet says:

    I am eight months pregnant and my pcv is low 31 precisely. What do I do to help situation.

    • Jenny says:

      Hi Juliet, I believe that pregnant women should consult with a doctor (I’m not a doctor) due to their special condition.

  19. Kelly Snyder says:

    I liked your article very much. Curious what you might think about this, would Shoofly Pie qualify as a good way to intake molasses? (Not to eat a whole pie, but a slice.) The molasses is baked with flour, brown sugar, some shortening, one egg, water and baking soda, all in a pie crust. Do you think the molasses is not still a reliable source of iron after baking? Just curious, I hadn’t ever thought about Shoofly Pie as a possible source of iron from molasses before.

    • Jenny says:

      Cooking or baking doesn’t reduce the amounts of iron in the food. Blackstrap molasses is a rich source of the type of iron found in plant foods, and since vitamin C helps your body absorb iron from plant sources, it’s recommended to eat foods high in vitamin C alongside blackstrap molasses, so maybe add some strawberries to the shoofly pie…

    • Sue says:

      Also craving ice is another sign of anemia

  20. Marcia Schachner says:

    My husband had surgery for esophageal cancer in 2008. Most people die, but he survived so far. The surgery involved removing his esophagus except for the very top part and 1/3 of his stomach. The malignancy was at the junction between the esophagus and stomach. It has been a rough road. Recently a problem occurred with his iron level so low that he needed iron infusions. He had been feeling exhausted sleeping all of the time. The over the counter iron supplements were tried and did not work. The hematologist/oncologist has not given us a clear idea of how to treat this other than the iron infusions. It appears to be an absorption problem. He is mostly a vegetarian and likes eggs, tofu, chicken, and salads. You have given some good suggestions such as molasses, nuts, etc. You also said that vitamin C is needed to aid absorption. Some good suggestions. We are very worried about this problem. Any other suggestions? Marcia

  21. Simone says:

    I have been feeing just terriable for a while now – had my iron blood tested – my iron level came back at 9 – apart from iron tablets what can be do – I feed up with feeing so tiered / dizzy / and just no energy.

  22. Darlene Vandenberghe says:

    My iron was 9 and then I took 2 ferramax for one month which brought it up to 10. I now take 2 ferramax and 1 Eurofer and that brought my level up to 11 which is still way too low. I feel very tired and have headaches, daily. What can I take besides vitamin tablets?

    • Jenny says:

      While iron is needed for the formation of red blood cells, there are other vitamins that are needed for your body to make red blood cells, for example folate and vitamin B12 are also essential for red blood cell production, and a lack of either of these can result in anemia. Read my article about Warning Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency, and talk to your doctor as you may need to have your blood tested to see if there are other deficiencies that cause of your anemia.

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