Everyone has days when they can’t stop yawning.However, ongoing fatigue is more than just feeling tired now and again.
Fatigue is the kind of weariness that leads to lapses in concentration, a tendency to withdraw socially and an overall inability to keep up. This often leads people to look for help; researchers say that about one fifth of all family medicine doctor visits are at least partially prompted by excessive tiredness.
Fatigue is a key marker for a long list of medical conditions (which is why it’s a good idea to schedule that doctor visit). But one of the most common is a lack of iron.
Cells need two things to create energy: fuel (such as glucose or fat-based ketones) and oxygen. Hemoglobin, the stuff that gives red blood cells their color, grabs oxygen molecules in the lungs so they can be delivered to the body’s cells.
What is hemoglobin made of? Iron.
This is why a lack of iron is one of the most widespread causes of anemia, in which the blood doesn’t have enough hemoglobin. In fact, iron deficiency is a common nutritional problem around the globe; it affects nearly 25% of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization.
Fatigue is one of the most frequent symptoms of anemia, as is weakness. Others include dizziness, headaches and brittle nails. What’s more, being low on iron can cause tiredness and a washed-out feeling long before outright anemia develops.
Women are more prone to iron deficiency than men for a variety of reasons. According to the federal Office on Women’s Health, up to 5% of women in their childbearing years develop anemia due to heavy menstrual periods; those who are pregnant can become low in iron because of the growing child’s needs. And while male athletes can become anemic because hard training raises red blood cell production, increasing demand on the body’s iron stores, it’s an even bigger problem for female athletes.
Iron deficiency can develop for other reasons. For example, vegetarians are susceptible because animal-based foods contain iron in a form called heme, which is much more usable than the non-heme iron found in plant-based foods. And seniors can develop anemia because chronic disease, which becomes more common with age, can lead to iron deficiency, as can having subnormal levels of stomach acid.
Iron the Right Way
If you suspect you’re low on iron, you should always first consult with your practitioner. After that meeting, you may want to increase your iron supply from sources such as grass-fed beef and wild-caught fish.
Iron is also available in supplemental form, but you have to be careful—some types can provoke digestive distress. For greater comfort and absorbability, look for a product that provides organically bound, high-potency iron without alcohol, artificial additives and synthetic preservatives.
Other nutrients help make iron supplements more effective. Vitamin C, which increases absorption, is a key iron cofactor. In addition, plant substances called phytonutrients provide antioxidants for blood and blood-vessel support.
Feeling constantly tired and finding that you’re low on iron? Proper diet, along with smart supplementation, may help you feel like your old self again.