Signs and symptoms of low iron levels

Published July 3, 2014

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Iron is a mineral that’s essential for many important body functions including:

  • Oxygen transport – Iron is necessary for the formation of two molecules: hemoglobin which transports oxygen to the body’s tissues, and myoglobin which is involved in the transport and short‐term storage of oxygen in muscle cells.1
  • The production of energy – Iron is needed for the activation of a key enzyme involved in energy production from carbohydrate and fat metabolism.
  • Brain and nerve function – Iron is an essential co-factor in the synthesis of brain chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.2
  • Immunity – Sufficient iron is required for several immune functions1

When iron levels are inadequate to perform these crucial functions it can result in a number of associated signs and symptoms such as:

  • Increased fatigue
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Reduced endurance capacity during exercise
  • Poor immune defenses
  • Decreased general health and well-being
  • Difficulty maintaining a normal body temperature in a cold environment1
  • Pale inside lower eyelid or mouth3
  • Pale‐colored nail bed3
  • Pale lines on stretched palm3
  • Brittle hair3
  • Impaired mental function3

Who is at risk of low iron?

People who are at risk of low iron include adolescents and pregnant women as they have increased iron requirements due to rapid growth and expanded blood volumes.3 Vegetarians and vegans are also at risk because iron from plants is less efficiently absorbed than that from animal sources.1 People who engage in intense regular exercise appear to have enhanced iron losses, which may increase their daily iron needs.1

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