Why am I tired all the time (part 2) - Iron Deficiency

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You know how sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed? And then when you finally drag yourself out and force yourself to get in the shower the day just doesn’t seem to get any easier? Your body seems groggy and sluggish, mentally you’re not as sharp, and you just feel like the day is dragging?

Now, there are many things that this could point towards, and in one of our recent posts we wrote about Adrenal Maladaptation, so make sure to read that here.

What I’m talking about in this article is iron deficiency and anaemia (also spelt anemia for those US folks). Iron deficiency is extremely prevalent in women of childbearing age, and can cause prolonged feelings of tiredness, poor concentration, pale gums, pale eyelids (on the inside), washed-out skin, and feeling breathless after exercise. So if you’re constantly feeling tired, maybe a little more iron in your diet could help, it’s easy to check up on this by requesting a blood test from your GP.

Now, don’t get the two confused, low iron levels and iron deficiency anaemia are not the same thing. Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition which develops when the body is lacking iron over a prolonged period of time. This causes iron levels in the blood to decrease, as well as your blood levels of ferritin (an iron-storing protein). After this your body limits the production and formation of haemoglobin, which causes your red blood cells to be smaller. Fatigue can come about as a side-effect from this process, and your haemoglobin is what is carrying oxygen all throughout your body via your blood.

Dosage (general):
Men and non-menstruating women: 10mg daily
Menstruating and nursing women: 15mg
Pregnant women: 30mg

Iron Supplementation
Not all iron supplements are created equal! So we do recommend speaking to your preferred health professional about which type of iron supplement you should be taking.  If you do choose to supplement your iron it’s important to note new studies that have been published in the medical journal Blood have revealed that the body does not correctly absorb iron supplements when they are administered in 24-hour intervals.

Most experience that I (and others I know) have had with doctor’s mentioning iron supplementation is that they say to take it once a day. However, these recent studies are showing that a small protein-like molecule named hepcidin could actually be inhibiting the intake of the iron supplement. Hepcidin production begins in your liver after you have taken an iron supplement, it’s job is to regulate the amount of iron that’s absorbed into your body. Researchers have found that the levels of hepcidin found in the body reached their peak between 6-8 hours after the iron supplementation, but there was still a significant amount of hepcidin found in the body even after 24 hours. This means that if you’ve taken one iron tablet, and go to take another one exactly 24 hours later, your body will not be able to absorb it correctly.

How do you actually get the iron then?
Iron is best absorbed (like most nutrients) if you’re able to get it as part of your diet, make sure to also include B12 and C for the best absorption. However, if you’re unable to get iron in high enough levels in your diet, you can use supplements.

Here’s some high-iron suggestions for you:

Per 100g
Liver 23mg
Soybeans 15.7mg
Squash 15mg
Mushrooms 12.1mg
Dark chocolate 11.9mg
Oysters 7mg
Dried apricots 6.31mg
Pine nuts 6.1mg
Beef 3.8mg
White beans 3.7mg
Spinach 3.5mg
Olives 3.32mg
Desiccated coconut 3.32mg
Lentils 3.3mg
Olives 3.3mg
Pumpkin seeds 3.3mg
Tofu 2.7mg
Asparagus 2.1mg
Leeks 2.1mg                                             


Haas, J and Brownlie T 2001, 'Iron deficiency and reduced work capacity: a critical review of the research to determine a casual relationship'. The American Society for Nutritional Sciences.

Vaucher et al 2012, 'Effect of iron supplementation on fatigue in nonanemic menstruating women with low ferritin: a randomized controlled trial'. CMAJ, vol 187, no. 11, pp. 1247-1254.

Greig, A et al 2013, 'Iron deficiency, cognition, mental health and fatigue in women of childbearing age: a systematic review'. J Nutr Sci.

Moretti, D et al 2015, 'Oral iron supplements increase hepcidin and decrease iron absorption from daily or twice-daily doses in iron-depleted young women'. Blood, vol 126, no. 17.

Allen, L 2002, 'Iron supplements: scientific issues concerning efficacy and implications for research and programs'. The American Society for Nutritional Sciences.