Lindsay Mustard
Holistic Nutritionist, Personal Trainer, Yoga Instructor

22 Mar 2019


The single most frequently used word I hear in both my practice and in my school’s clinic. Students, teachers, full time employees, new moms - everyone. They’re exhausted. Why is that?

One of the first questions I ask a new patient is what are you eating? Followed closely by, how are you feeling and how long have you been feeling (insert exhausted, depressed, dizzy, sick, light headed...etc)? Obviously, there are a number of health challenges that could be causing the dysfunction, but one of the first I choose to investigate is their iron levels, specifically in females. Iron is a trace element that is required for the production of hemoglobin in our red blood cells. As the body cannot produce iron by itself, it is an element, so we must obtain adequate amounts from our food and additional supplementation.

Hemoglobin is responsible for transporting and carrying oxygen from our lungs to all tissues all over the body. If iron levels in the body become too low, the production of hemoglobin comes to a halt as the body can no longer produce the protein without sufficient iron reserves.

Luckily, once the body returns back to homeostasis and its iron levels are replenished, all iron dependant function pick up again.

When we consume iron rich foods or take our trusty iron supplements, the mineral is absorbed directly in the small intestine, specifically the duodenum. Our cells require iron in order to undergo a process known as a cellular respiration, a process in which humans obtain and utilize energy we receive in the form of ATP. Iron is crucially important for our cells as it is responsible for oxygen transportation and is required for the functioning and survival of nearly all cell types.

Females store approximately ~38 mg iron/kg, while males store closer to ~50 mg/kg of bodyweight. The body stores over half of its iron reserves in the form of hemoglobin which is required for oxygen circulation throughout the blood, while the remaining is contained in Ferritin that can be found in bone marrow, the liver and spleen. Approximately 400 mg of the body’s total iron reserves and stores are devoted to cellular proteins that utilize iron for cellular processes such as storing oxygen or performing energy-producing reactions.

Before I dig into the all the details of the main causes of low iron, I do want to clarify that it is indeed possible to have an iron deficiency and not be anemic. Anemia occurs when your blood can’t effectively carry oxygen to your cells and develops when there is a lack of red blood cells or hemoglobin, the part of blood cells that is responsible for binding to oxygen. The symptoms of both health conditions will present similarly; extreme fatigue, pale skin, weakened immune system, headaches, impaired physical or mental ability, dizziness and/or cold hands or feet.

How Does Iron Deficiency Occur?
We know that the body requires oxygen to be delivered via red blood cells - so if the body is deficient in iron, it can’t produce enough hemoglobin to deliver oxygen to our cells.
The most common reason for iron deficiency is poor nutrition, excess blood loss, poor gastro-intestinal health(compromised absorption) and excessive tea consumption (tannins bind iron).

The majority of iron we receive through food can be found in animal products such as meat and eggs which contain heme bound iron.
Some plant foods such as green leafy vegetables, molasses, pumpkin seeds and beans contain non-heme iron and require Vitamin C to be fully absorbed.

Excess Blood Loss:
Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen to our cells through our blood, so if we lose blood, we also loose red blood cells, hemoglobin and iron. It’s common for women with heavy menstrual cycles to suffer from iron deficiencies, however it is also common to find slower chronic causes for blood loss such as peptic ulcers or esophageal varices.

Increasing Iron Stores
I am a firm believer in obtaining as many nutrients as possible from whole, real foods. But when it comes to iron, I strongly suggest combining forces and taking a natural iron supplement.
Iron levels can take upwards of six months to fully replenish, however symptoms usually subside within 2-3 weeks, which means many people stop focusing on iron replenishment way too early.

I recommend combining an iron rich diet, with foods such as beef, liver, beans, legumes, pumpkin seeds, turkey, spinach and broccoli, with a supplement such as Carbonyl Iron.

Ask anyone who’s had to take iron supplements - the first thing they will warn you about is constipation. Carbonyl Iron is a metallic iron, making it far more absorbable and effective without disturbing the gastrointestinal system and causing any discomfort or constipation.

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