I saw this article about iron deficiency & some of the unusual symptoms, on the Mail Online website.
Lack of iron is the most common vitamin and mineral deficiency in the UK — at least four million Britons are affected, including one in three hospital patients and one in ten of the general population, according to research published in the journal Blood and led by Toby Richards, a professor of surgery at University College London.
We tend to associate it with tiredness, however hair loss, brain fog, low sex drive, depression, heart palpitations, restless legs, even cravings for ice cubes, are just some of the other signs your body is missing out.
‘There is an iron deficiency epidemic in the UK — with potentially millions of people suffering the effects without knowing the cause,’ argues Professor Richards.
‘The symptoms are easy to miss in busy people — they just dismiss their fatigue as general tiredness — or don’t know about the other symptoms, and GPs don’t test for iron deficiency enough.’
We need iron to make haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen around the body in order to make energy in muscles — low levels can cause extreme tiredness as well as affecting other body functions. But while lack of iron, or anaemia, is usually put down to diet — not eating enough red meat — or periods, there are a host of other potential causes, including medication and serious disease.
Anaemia is also more common in older people with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer — these inflammatory illnesses disrupt the absorption of iron and its movement around the body.
When GPs suspect anaemia — usually because of tiredness and fatigue — they will give a blood test for haemoglobin. Technically speaking, ‘anaemia’ is a haemoglobin level of 120g per litre or less of blood in women, and 130g in men.
‘In the UK people usually have to wait until they are anaemic before they have treatment,’ explains Professor Richards. But some experts say because these tests don’t show levels of stored iron — or ferritin — they don’t give the full picture.
‘If you have anaemia your tank is empty of iron, but if you have low levels of ferritin (between 15 and 30) you’re heading that way and are already on the reserve tank and could still have symptoms,’ says Professor Richards.
People can be iron deficient with normal haemoglobin and so doctors shouldn’t rely on blood tests alone for making a diagnosis of iron deficiency or anaemia, says Dr Wayne Thomas, a consultant haematologist at University Hospital, Plymouth NHS Trust and a spokesman for the British Society for Haematology.
Risk factor: Anaemia is also more common in older people with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer these inflammatory illnesses disrupt the absorption of iron.
Even testing ferritin levels can be flawed, he says — ‘if you have a chronic illness your ferritin levels can actually be pushed up. Assessing low iron also has to be about taking a history and listening to a patient’s symptoms.’
Dr Thomas says up to 30 per cent of menstruating women will have low iron stores and although not anaemic, may have symptoms such as fatigue. Iron deficiency anaemia is a public health issue we could be dealing with better,’ he says.
Even when people are anaemic, the symptoms can be missed and go untreated for months, even years, says Professor Richards, who also runs the private Iron Clinic in London.
‘Treatment is mainly a healthy iron-rich diet including foods such as red meat, lentils, beans and chickpeas and taking iron supplements at a dose of 65mg a day. They should be taken on an empty stomach with a vitamin C source to aid absorption and you should wait one hour before drinking tea or coffee as this affects absorption,’ says Professor Richards.
‘For most people, diet and supplements will be enough to restore their iron levels although it can take up to nine months. However, iron supplements can cause stomach upsets and nausea — this is because only a fraction of the iron taken in the supplement is absorbed (about 5 to 10 per cent); the rest sits in the gut and causes stomach irritation.’
Another option is an iron infusion via a drip, which gives patients all the iron they need in one dose. ‘This is available in some areas of the country on the NHS, but it depends on local commissioning groups,’ says Professor Richards.
by Jo Waters for the Daily Mail