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

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Top Signs of Iron Deficiency and How To Increase Iron Levels In Your Blood
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An iron deficiency can make you feel constantly tired, lack energy, have a pale complexion, or suffer from frequent headaches. A lack of iron in the body can be caused when you don’t consume enough iron-rich foods, when your body can’t absorb enough iron, or you have blood loss. If your body doesn’t have enough iron, it can’t make enough hemoglobin – part of the red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body. The result of an iron deficiency can by anemia, tiredness, and shortness of breath.

If you have low iron levels, then it’s important to check your diet to make sure that it contains enough iron. One of the best ways to increase your iron level is to consume iron-rich foods. The best foods to boost levels of iron in your body are leafy green vegetables, beef, chicken liver, and oysters. It is also possible to prevent an iron deficiency by taking iron supplements.

However, if you decide to use iron supplements, it’s important to speak with your doctor who will check if you have low iron. This is to prevent the side effects of having too much iron in your body. You should also read my complete guide to choosing the best iron supplement.

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Iron deficiencies often affect infants and children, women who lose a lot of blood through menstruation, vegetarians, and frequent blood donors.

In this article, you will learn about how to recognize the signs of an iron deficiency. You can also find out what causes low iron levels in the blood and how to increase iron levels naturally. This information can help you avoid the health consequences of too little iron and help prevent iron deficiency anemia.

Signs of Iron Deficiency

In many people, the signs of an iron deficiency can be so mild that it goes unnoticed. Many people put feelings of tiredness, weakness, or headaches down to the stresses of daily life. According to the Mayo Clinic, other signs that your body is lacking iron are:1

  • Pale skin
  • Chest pains
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Brittle nails
  • Poor appetite
  • Inflammation of your tongue

If you suspect an iron deficiency in yourself or your child, you should see a doctor who will perform a blood test to check iron levels. Other possible tests to check for anemia are MCHC blood test (concentration of hemoglobin in blood cells) RDW blood test, MCH blood test, and Hematocrit (Hct) blood test. Your doctor will also make sure that if you have low iron levels, these aren’t caused by a more serious medical condition like internal bleeding.

Causes of iron deficiency

There are a number of factors that can cause an iron deficiency leading to anemia. Although anyone can suffer from iron deficiency anemia, there are some people who are more at risk than others.

Not getting enough iron from your diet. Your body needs a constant supply of iron to keep your blood healthy and circulating properly. A lack of iron from your diet will cause a deficiency, and in severe cases lead to anemia.1

Heavy menstrual periods can be a cause of iron deficiency in many women. The National Health Service (NHS) says that women are at risk of low levels of iron especially if they have heavy bleeding over consecutive menstrual cycles. This results in the loss of more red blood cells than the body can produce.2

Pregnancy can be a cause of developing iron deficiency. The NHS explains that during pregnancy extra oxygen and nutrients are required for the baby’s blood supply. This can often cause low iron levels.2

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Abnormal bleeding associated with some diseases can cause an iron deficiency to develop. Dr. Todd Gersten, hematologist from the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, says that stomach ulcers or cancers in the digestive tract can cause internal bleeding leading to anemia. The long-term use of aspirin, ibuprofen or other medicines can thin the stomach lining leading to bleeding and a loss of iron.3

If your body can’t absorb enough iron from your diet, then you could suffer from the symptoms of a lack of iron. This can be caused by various conditions like celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or inflammation of the esophagus.2

How much iron do we need to consume a day?

It’s important to eat a well-balanced diet to get the required number of vitamins and minerals to keep your body in good health. According to doctors at the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily intake of iron is as follows:4

  • Infants 7 – 12 months: 11 mg.
  • Children ages 1 – 13: 7 mg – 10 mg.
  • Women ages 14 – 50: 15 mg – 18 mg.
  • Women who are pregnant: 27 mg.
  • Men ages 14 – 50: 8 mg – 11 mg.
  • Men and women over 50: 8 mg.

How to Improve Iron Absorption from Food

Even if you are eating enough foods containing iron, you could still have an iron deficiency if your body can’t absorb enough of this mineral.

Dr. Christine Mikstas on WebMD says that consuming foods containing vitamin C along with iron-rich foods can help you get more iron from your food. Some rich sources of vitamin C are green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and bell peppers.5

What can interfere with iron absorption?

Some foods, although healthy in themselves, can actually interfere with iron absorption. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that calcium-rich and fiber-containing foods, spinach, eggs, and milk can decrease the amount of iron the body absorbs.6

For example: Oxalic acid found in many green vegetables may delay the absorption of iron. Spinach is very rich in oxalic acid which binds to the iron and interferes with iron absorption.

Also 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.

Dr. Mikstas also recommends to avoid drinking coffee or tea along with iron-rich foods.5 Drinking tea, coffee, and even eating chocolate interferes with iron absorption due to their high content of polyphenols, as well as calcium which is found in dairy products.

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How to Increase Iron Levels in Your Blood

One of the best ways to avoid an iron deficiency is to get enough iron from a varied and well-balanced diet. Depending on the cause and severity of your low iron levels, you may also need to supplement your diet with iron.

Here are the best ways to increase iron levels in your blood to address an iron deficiency or prevent levels of iron in your blood dropping.

Incorporate iron-rich foods in your diet

Dietary iron is found in two forms:

  • Heme iron. This type of iron is found in lean red meat, poultry, and fish. Heme iron is easily absorbed into the body.
  • Nonheme iron. Nonheme iron is poorly absorbed into the body. Cereals, broccoli, legumes, brown rice, nuts and seeds all contain nonheme iron.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend consuming food rich in vitamin C along with nonheme iron-rich foods. This will increase the amount of iron your body gets from cereals, beans, and other nonheme iron vegetables.

Animal sources of iron

Dietary sources of iron from animals contains heme iron. This is easily absorbed into the body and is the most common source of iron from the diet to help to increase iron levels. According to Dr. Christine Mikstas on WebMD, iron-rich foods from animal sources are:7

  • Beef
  • Chicken liver
  • Seafood like clams, mussels, or oysters
  • Canned sardines in oil

Other sources of iron from animal products, but with significantly less iron per ounce are poultry, fish, ham, and veal.

Vegetable sources of iron

Iron derived from plants is nonheme iron and is poorly absorbed into the body. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, then it’s important to supplement your diet with vitamin C.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that vitamin C has an enhancing effect on nonheme iron absorption in the body. The researchers found that vitamin C can help to increase iron bioavailability by up to 7%.8

Dr. Mikstas on WebMD says that good plant and vegetable sources of iron are:5

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  • Cooked beans
  • Kale
  • Pumpkin or sesame seeds
  • Dried apricots
  • Baked potatoes
  • Split peas
  • Nuts
  • Broccoli
  • Bread
  • Brown rice

Buy iron-enriched foods

Many people who want to increase their levels of iron, especially if they don’t eat animal products, buy iron-enriched foods. For example, many breakfast cereals and breads are fortified with iron and can help boost your iron levels.

The journal Nutrients reported that in countries where iron deficiency anemia is a major problem, iron-enriched foods are used. The introduction of foods fortified with iron has helped to reduce complications of anemia in children.9

Cook with cast iron cookware

Another way to increase your iron levels naturally and help prevent the symptoms of anemia is to use cast iron cookware. When you heat food in a metal container, some of the metal leaches into the food and affects it. This is one reason why you should never cook with aluminum cookware.

The British Dietetic Association recommended cooking with iron pots to help reduce iron deficiencies. Researchers found that cooking food in iron cookware increases the hemoglobin concentration in people with iron deficiencies. The study concluded that using iron pots for preparing food is a way to reduce iron deficiency.10

Boost iron levels with supplements

Taking iron supplements can help to prevent anemia and increase iron levels. PubMed Health reported on reviews showing that supplements containing iron can help women who are anemic due to heavy menstrual bleeding or who are pregnant.11

To reduce the side effects of iron supplementation like constipation, nausea, abdominal discomfort and change in stool color. The report suggests that some women take iron supplement intermittently. However, in comparison with daily supplementation, taking iron supplements intermittently is less effective in preventing or controlling anemia.

Check Vitamin B12 Levels

Anemia can also develop due to vitamin B12 deficiency, as vitamin B12 is essential to make red blood cells and carry oxygen through your body.

Dr. Gregory Thompson on WebMD says that as well as causing anemia, a vitamin B12 deficiency can also lead to nerve damage and affect memory and thinking. Drinking alcohol and some medicines can also cause vitamin B12 levels to drop.12  

Good sources of vitamin B12 that can help prevent anemia are beef liver, clams, rainbow trout, chicken breast, and fortified cereals with B12.

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources:
  1. MayoClinic. Iron deficiency anemia.
  2. NHS. Iron deficiency anemia – causes.
  3. MedlinePlus. Iron deficiency anemia.
  4. ODS. Iron.
  5. WebMD. Iron-rich foods.
  6. MayoClinic. Iron supplement.
  7. WebMD. Iron-rich foods.
  8. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990 Apr;51(4):649-55.
  9. Nutrients. 2016 Aug; 8(8): 494.
  10. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2003 Aug;16(4):275-81.
  11. PubMedHealth. Iron supplements
  12. WebMD. Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia.
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20 Responses to Top Signs of Iron Deficiency and How To Increase Iron Levels In Your Blood

  1. Joyce 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Sally says:

    Apricots are a good source of iron for vegans.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  5. Darlene 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.

    • Crystal says:

      Hello Darlene, I am having the same issue except I’m 30 wks pregnant. I had my iron tested in June and it was 109 3 months later it was 107. The safe zone for iron is 113 and above. I take 3 ferramax pills a day and I get a B12 shot once a month and I don’t feel any better either. I get tested again this month. I’m praying for an increase of numbers. I was told to eat a piece of liver a day.

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