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Iron! The missing nutrient!

Can you guess what is the most common nutrient deficiency I see in clinic?


An essential mineral, that is absolutely vital for healthy bodily functions. Iron is metal & thus is not produced in the body, meaning it must be obtained by external sources, making it easy to be deficient in if your diet is lacking for various reasons (vegetarians & vegans need to be extra conscious of their iron levels).

So why is iron soo important? Essentially iron is needed for almost all natural bodily functions -

  • Bone health

  • Detoxification of peroxides

  • Growth

  • Haemoglobin synthesis

  • Oxygen transport

  • Synthesis of neurotransmitters & DNA

  • Immunity

  • Skin & nail formation

  • Respiration

So how do you know if you are low in iron?

There are 2 ways to find out - pathology results & body signs & symptoms.

Pathology results - one the reason iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency I see in clinic is because it's not easily picked up by on your blood test. The reference range for ferritin, which is your stored iron & arguably the more important iron levels to check, is huge! So whilst your ferritin level might be technically within range, they may not be in optimal level! The optimal level of iron is around 100ug/L, this will ensure healthy bodily functions are facilitated appropriately.

The body always gives us signs that things aren't right, so we can expect the same for low iron levels -

The common signs & symptoms of low iron are -

  • Extreme fatigue & weakness

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Depression

  • Pale complexion

  • Cold hands & feet

  • General cold sensitivity

  • Constipation

  • Menstrual irregularities

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Shortness of breath

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness & lightheadedness

  • Brittle nails

  • Sore tongue

What might be the reason for your iron deficiency?

  • Blood loss - Blood contains iron within red blood cells. So if you lose blood, you lose some iron. Women with heavy menstrual blood loss are at risk of becoming iron deficient. Also slow, chronic blood loss within the body, that has gone undetected can also be a cause for iron deficiency. There can be various reasons for this, so always check with qualified health professional to rule this out as a cause of deficiency.

  • Pregnancy - very common deficiency in pregnancy as a mothers iron stores need to serve their own increased blood volume as well as be a source for the growing baby.

  • Inability to absorb iron - Iron is absorbed from food in the small intestines, thus an intestinal disorder, such as celiac disease, affects your intestine's ability to absorb nutrients from digested food. Another reason is that iron isn't very easily absorbed by the body, there are various foods that can inhibit it's absorption, the most common - excess dairy, caffeine & sugar consumption.

  • Copper deficiency - copper is essential for the absorption of iron in the small intestines, thus when copper levels are low there is a good chance iron levels are also low.

  • Insufficient levels in your diet - as mentioned earlier iron is not produced in the body & thus needs to be obtained externally - thus if you diet is constantly low in iron then a deficiency occurs.

So now we know how important iron is, what the signs of deficiency are & why deficiency might occur, how do we ensure we are getting enough? There is a recommended daily dose for -

  • Men - 10g

  • Women - 13-20mg - depending on health

  • Pregnant women - 27mg

  • Lactating mothers - 10- 15mg

We must ensure we are getting adequate levels from our diets. Here is a a list of foods that are high in iron-

  • Herbs - nettle leaf, parsley, coriander, gotu kola, spearmint, yellow dock & dandelion leaf

  • Red meat - especially the liver & kidney

  • Seafood - fish & all seaweed

  • Spirulina - the best non- animal source of iron as it contains both the heme & non heme forms of iron making it a complete iron like that of red meat.

  • Nuts - almonds, pine nuts & cashews

  • Seeds - sunflower, hemp, flaxseeds & pumpkin

  • Legumes - lentils & red kidney beans

  • Whole grains - wheat germ, brown rice, spelt, oats, quinoa

  • Vegetables - leafy greens, especially spinach, broccoli, mushrooms & avocados

  • Fruits - apricots & figs - dried are even higher

There are of course certain time when an iron supplement is required, however ALWAYS speak to a qualified NATURAL health professional (doctors often prescribe a substandard form of iron that at worst causes black stools & constipation & at best isn't absorbed by the body) to ensure you are taking the best form of iron that is easily absorbed & at the correct dose for your individual needs!

NOTE: Iron is a metal so toxicity can of course occur, also there are some people, estimate 1:300 who have hemochromatosis an iron storage disease, thus always check with a qualified health care provider to check your iron levels!

In health & happiness

Sarah Emily Herbalist

References available on request

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