The Right Test For Iron Deficiency And The Natural Treatment Guide
A test for iron deficiency is a must for every woman. Having Iron deficiency can affect the quality of daily life drastically. Imagine, that this beautiful day, which is never going to come back to you, you spend it in bed sleeping, fatigued. Being Iron deficit sucks!
If you are an adult male or a postmenopause women, don’t waste your time reading this article. Because Iron deficiency is unlike the cause of your fatigue unless you have lost blood.
Somehow all women are guilty telling about their sleep naps in the afternoon. I remember my mom telling me that she is awake in the afternoon, while she slept without even knowing when she fell asleep. Today, I can connect the points. She has been anemic the whole life and so do I. That’s why it was very important for me to write this detailed article for every woman, who is suffering from extreme fatigue, dull nails and hairs and pale complexion.
This article will be different to any other articles you will find on different websites because I will not be talking about the common tests and the symptoms. This article will cover, the whole picture of iron level tests and its treatment and what causes it.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) found that 29% of women in their reproductive years are iron deficient. Even worse, 38% of pregnant women are deficient. India has one of the highest rates with 55% of women being anemic. South Asia and West Africa are the regions with the worst rates of iron deficiency. But this is really a global issue.
Women are often tired, and we think it is because of our busy lives, which it very well could be. We often have many responsibilities at home and at work, but it could also be due to iron deficiency.
Symptoms of iron deficiency
For me having sufficient iron in the body, simply makes a woman beautiful. Afterall who doesn’t want to have beautiful nails, hair, and complexion?Further symptoms of iron deficiency can often mimic the symptoms of other medical conditions. One of them is hypothyroidism. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, be sure to do the iron tests that I will be recommending.
- Constantly feeling exhausted
- Brain fog
- Brittle nails
- Dry and damaged hair
- Hair loss
- Feeling out of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Swollen tongue
- Sore mouth
- Cravings for dirt, chalk or ice
- Restless legs
- Cold hands and feet
- Loss of sex drive
Cause of Iron deficiency: Why Me?
There are many things that can cause a deficiency in iron. Your body regulates your iron levels by adjusting the level of iron it absorbs. When you need more iron, your body will increase its absorption of iron and during times it has enough it lowers the rate of absorption.
But sometimes things can go wrong, usually due to illnesses, but other factors can also cause a deficiency such as:
- Not eating enough iron-rich foods: If you are not eating enough iron, your body won’t have enough iron to absorb. The detail list of foods discussed below.
- Eating the wrong foods together: Vegans and vegetarians are especially at risk of this since they consume plant iron (non-haem iron) which is less bioavailable (able to be absorbed by the body) than animal sources of iron (haem iron). Consuming high calcium foods, tea or coffee interferes with how much iron your body can absorb as this study indicates.
- Menstruation: Women who have their periods lose iron every month during their periods. This is why women need more iron during these years of their lives. Heavy or long periods especially pose a risk for low iron levels and even anemia (a low number of red blood cells or not enough hemoglobin which is produced by iron).
- Loss of blood: If you have lost blood due to an injury, surgery, or have donated blood, you have lost some of your iron.
- Inflammation: If you are eating foods you are allergic to, it will move the iron into the ferritin (a type of protein) stores which will lower the iron levels in your blood.
- Exercising too much: Exercise is incredibly good for you, but too much of it can be harmful. Sometimes during excessive exercise, the red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body are destroyed. This can cause anemia.
- Kidney disorders and dialysis: During dialysis (also known as hemodialysis), because the blood is filtered to remove waste and toxin build up, iron can be lost. Kidney disorders are also a risk factor for anemia because the kidneys can stop producing EPO (erythropoietin) which is necessary for red blood cell creation.
- Digestive disorders: If you have a digestive disorder such as Crohn’s disease that affects your ability to absorb nutrients from your food you may struggle to absorb iron.
- Taking antacids: These often contain calcium which prevents iron absorption.
- Ulcers and hernias: Ulcers and hernias can cause slow blood loss over time which can lead to an iron deficiency.
- Pregnancy and lactation: Your body has an increased demand for iron during these times. If you are not eating enough iron to meet this demand you may be iron deficient. Your body will use your iron stores to make sure that your baby has enough iron which means that there won’t be enough left for you.
Tests for Iron Deficiency
This was the reason actually, that forced me to write this article. I have been always tested incomplete by my doctor. Often when doctors test iron levels, they only use the serum iron test. But there are other levels that should be checked too to make sure that you have the complete picture. In total, there are four tests that should be done. A complete iron panel should include these tests. If your doctor does not offer these other tests, you can go to a private lab.
Before going for any iron tests, you need to stop taking in iron 12 hours prior to the tests so that your readings are more accurate.
Depending on the circumstances you may even need to stop 5 days prior to the test. You will also need to speak to your doctor about any medications that you are on.
Some medications that affect your iron test results include:
- Birth control pills
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
- Aspirin (in large doses)
- Vitamin B12 supplements
Other things that can affect your iron levels:
- Sleep deprivation
- Getting a blood transfusion in the 4 months leading up to your test
Never stop any medication without the go-ahead from your doctor. Abstain from alcohol before your tests and try to get enough good quality sleep.
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The different tests can point to the possible cause of your low iron levels, which I learned from stopthethyroidmadness. The tests that should be included are:
1. Serum Iron Test/Total Iron
This test measures your blood iron levels. This is the test most often performed. But it’s important to note that just because you have normal iron levels in your blood, it does not mean that you have the correct amount of iron stored in your body. It’s essential that you get the other tests done.
Lab range: 50-150 mcg/dL
Optimal amount: Around 110 mcg/dL
(One is lab range, which doctors consider normal and one is the optimal range, which people with extraordinary performance consider normal. Afterall we just don’t want to live, our aim is to live to the full potential right!)
2. Transferrin Saturation or Percent Saturation of Iron
Your transferrin saturation or percent (%) saturation of iron is your iron serum level divided by your TIBC. Your TIBC levels can cause a false reading, for example, if your TIBC levels are low, your saturation level can look high when it’s not. This is another reason for all 4 tests to be done.
Lab range: 15%-50%
Optimal amount: Around 35%
3. Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC)
In order for iron to move through your blood, it needs to be attached to a protein called transferrin. A TIBC tests measures if you have enough transferrin. If you have low levels of transferrin, you will have lower iron levels because there is not enough transferrin in your blood to carry the iron.
Lab range: 250-450 mcg/dL
Optimal amount: Low 300’s mcg/dL
4. Serum Ferritin Test
A serum ferritin test is very important and along with the other tests gives a lot of feedback regarding your health. Ferritin is a protein in your body that contains iron. When your ferritin levels are checked the amount of iron stored in your body can be determined. Less than 20 ng/ml indicates a deficiency.
Low levels of ferritin along with low levels of iron and transferrin saturation is an indication of low iron levels, both in your iron stores and in your blood which indicates iron deficiency.
A high level of ferritin with low levels of iron is often a sign of inflammation in the body. So while the iron deficiency will need to be treated the inflammation needs to be dealt with first so that your body is able to work at its best. The inflammation can be due to thyroid problems, asthma, liver problems or even diabetes to mention a few.
Tests will need to be run to confirm any health conditions in the event that you are not aware of them. Often you will be experiencing symptoms from those conditions that will make it easier to pinpoint them.
Lab range: 20-80 ng/ml
Optimal amount: 40-60 ng/ml
If you have low levels in your tests, your serum iron, and your transferrin saturation will be treated. The other levels should improve naturally as your iron levels become optimal.
Here is a summary of what your iron levels should look like:
Iron Deficiency Anaemia
Anaemia caused by iron deficiency is one of the most common forms of anemia. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin which is a type of protein found in your blood. If you are deficient in iron, your body won’t be able to make enough. Haemoglobin transports oxygen around your body to all the cells and also takes carbon dioxide from your cells to be excreted by your lungs.
Tests for Iron Deficiency Anaemia (No More Looking Pale)
A complete blood cell test or CBC test is done. It measures all the components of your blood.
A CBC Test Measures the Following
- Haemoglobin: Your levels should be 12 g/dL to 15.5 g/dL. Levels lower than 12 g/dL indicates anemia.
- Haematocrit: This is the number of red blood cells present in your total blood volume. Your levels should be 34.9% to 44.5%. Levels lower than 34.9% indicate anemia.
- The size and health of your red and white blood cells
In addition to these tests, your doctor may often recommend the four tests for iron deficiency as well to confirm the cause and so that the severity can be determined and the correct treatment can be given.
If you are severely deficient supplementation is required and if you are mildly deficient you can go with the diet.
Iron Deficiency Treatment Foods ( Bad News for Vegetarians )
To make sure you get enough iron, you need to know which foods contain iron. While people who do not have dietary restrictions often get enough iron from animal products, it can be a little confusing for those who choose to follow a plant-based diet. Heme-iron (Animal) helps with the absorption of non-heme (iron from plants)
The recommended values of daily iron intake are different for Vegetarians and nonvegetarians. Why? Because vegetarians absorb iron from plants. The plan iron is 50% less absorbable than the animal iron.
- Meat Eating Mensurating Women: 18 mg
- PostMenopause Women: 8 mg
- Vegetarians Mensuration Women: 33 mg
- Meat Eating Men: 8 mg
- Vegetarian Men: 14 mg
Natural Sources of Iron for Vegetarians and for Non-Vegetarians
Plant sources of iron:
- White beans (6.6 mg per cup)
- Spinach- cooked (6.4 mg per cup)
- Chickpeas (4.7 mg per cup)
- Quinoa (2.8 mg per cup)
- Chia seeds (2.2 mg per 28 g)
- Cashew nuts (1.9 mg per 28g)
- Kale (1 mg per cup)
- Broccoli (0.7 mg per cup)
- Pumpkin seeds (0.5 mg per 1/4 cup)
- Flax seeds- ground (0.4 mg per tablespoon)
Animal product sources of iron:
- Beef liver (18 mg per 100 g)
- Duck (2.7 mg per 100 g)
- Sardines (2.9 mg per 100 g)
- Grass-fed beef (2 mg per 85 g)
- Lamb (1 mg per 85 g)
I make sure to eat animal liver once a week.
Iron has a delicate balance with other minerals, know the whole story.
Iron Absorption Problems
Some people may struggle with iron absorption which can cause a deficiency. There are a few reasons why this could be:
1. Low Stomach Acid
If you don’t have enough stomach acid you will struggle to absorb nutrients including iron. This problem can be caused by having had gastric bypass surgery, using antacids or being deficient in vitamin B12. A common and surprising sign of low stomach acid is heartburn or acid reflux. Acidic foods will help to improve your stomach acid levels.
The following foods can help with this:
- Lemon water
- Water with raw apple cider vinegar
- An HCL or hydrochloric acid supplement before meals or as directed. Bio-Gest is a great supplement to use and is vegetarian-friendly.
- Digestive bitters before meals as directed. You can try Schwedenbitter available from Amazon.
- Digestive enzymes before meals as directed
You should also try to eat smaller meals so that your stomach does not have to work as hard.
2. Digestive Disorders
Digestive disorders can affect iron absorption. This is because often there is some part of the digestive system not working properly or that part of your digestive system is inflamed or damaged. Speaking to your doctor about the treatment of these conditions is the best way to go about it. For example, those who suffer from coeliac disease should avoid gluten completely.
Other digestive disorders that can cause malabsorption of iron is Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS).
Some symptoms of digestive problems include:
- Constant diarrhea or constipation
- Bloating and gas
- Abdominal pain
- Frothy, oily or discolored stools
- Nausea and/or vomiting
If you experience these symptoms often or after specific foods, get tested. If you ever discover bleeding or black stools you should see your doctor immediately. Correct treatment can really improve your quality of life and ensure that you are able to absorb important nutrients like iron.
Foods that Increase Iron Absorption
Iron is a tricky thing. If you ate a meal high in iron and drank caffeine-rich beverages with or after your meal, the iron is 50% less absorbed whereas eating it with Vitamin C rich foods increases its absorption.
1. Vitamin C-Rich Foods
Vitamin C boosts the bioavailability of iron. This includes iron from plant sources, so if you are vegan or vegetarian, be sure to always add vitamin-C rich foods to your meals.
Foods high in vitamin C:
- Red and green bell peppers
- Brussel’s sprouts
2. Eating Plant Sources of Iron with Your Meat
In the case that you are not a vegan or vegetarian and you struggle with low iron levels, eating plant sources with the meat adds extra iron. The meat, because the haem iron is more bioavailable, will boost the bioavailability of the non-haem iron too.
3. Leafy Greens
Yes, EAT YOUR GREENS!!! Mark Sisson told you a million times to eat them, and here’s a reason why. They are rich in all four of these nutrients mentioned and much more including iron. Just do it!
Supplementation for Iron Deficiency
- Iron comes in different forms including ferrous glutamate, ferrous fumarate, and others.
- One favorite is ferrous bisglycinate (Thorne Research 36 mg Iron Supplement ) because it seems to cause less constipation that some of the others cause, plus the milligrams on the bottle equal the amount of elemental iron in the tablets, whereas the other may not.
- Because of the disparity between the milligrams and the elemental iron amount, pay attention to the “elemental iron” amount to get enough.
- Liquid Iron – It is best absorbed, animal-based but drink it with a straw as it can blacken your teeth and it is better than the tablets.
How much: 150 mg (or 2 to 5 mg) spread between meals. E.g. 50 mg 3X
How long: Take for 8 weeks and get the lab tests done again
Be sure to take your iron supplement on an empty stomach or between meals with lemon water or orange juice.
Who Needs Iron the Most and the Solution
- Babies (11 mg): Babies need iron to develop properly. Breast milk and fortified baby formula contain all the iron that your baby needs for the first 6 months. After age 6 months, start feeding your baby pureed meats at least twice a day to boost iron intake.
- Toddlers (7 mg) and young children (10 mg): Young children also need more iron for proper development. Be sure to give them iron-rich foods like sardines, grass-fed beef, tofu, and spinach. Make sure they do not drink more than 710 ml of milk per day. Pair these iron-rich foods with foods containing vitamin C like tomatoes and bell peppers.
- Teenage girls (15 mg): When girls start to menstruate, they will need more iron. You can give them iron-rich foods paired with vitamin C-rich foods as well to make sure that they are eating enough iron. Make sure they do not consume dairy for around 2 hours before and after iron-rich meals.
- Pre-menopausal women (18 mg): Follow the same instructions as for teenage girls.
- Pregnant (27 mg) and lactating women (10 mg): Because your body is taking care of your iron needs as well as those of your child, you need to eat more iron. Your doctor may recommend an iron supplement to make sure that your demand for iron is met. You will still need to continue a healthy diet containing iron.
- People with health conditions: Speak to your doctor about the right course of action. Likely supplementation will be required in addition to an iron-rich diet.
- If you have cancer: Never take iron supplements if you have cancer. Excess iron fuels cancer and there are numerous studies that back this. There is a summary of the studies available here.
- Constipation: One of the biggest side effects of iron supplements is constipation. If you are experiencing constipation when taking iron, you should take a magnesium supplement. Different forms of magnesium are better at helping some ailments than others, so choose the right one.
- Increase your dosage gradually: This is another common mistake. Rather start at a low dose and increase the dose slowly, this will decrease the risk of side effects like constipation.
- Take zinc: This study shows that iron can deplete zinc but that when zinc is supplemented 30-60 minutes prior to taking the iron keeps this from happening. Zinc can be taken with your meals. Zinc and copper should be taken together as they work synergistically. The Bulletproof Zinc with Copper supplement is a great choice.
- Interactions with other medications: Iron supplements can affect thyroid medications as well as antibiotics. Another drug it affects the absorption and function of is antidepressants. Do not take your iron supplement within 2 hours of these medications.
- Foods can decrease absorption: Whole grains and eggs can prevent absorption as well. There are anti-nutrients in whole grains that bind with the iron absorption and eggs contain phosvitin which does the same thing. Soak your grains before eating them to prevent this. Cook all your leafy green vegetables to in order to get rid of this or do not eat these foods within 2 hours of taking your iron supplement.
- Avoid ferrous sulfate: This is a form of iron that is added to many multivitamins, sadly even children’s multivitamins. But there have been cases of overdoses with this form of iron. Ferrous sulfate can be toxic. Rather take carbonyl iron which is a much safer form.
Recipe: Indian Delhi Saag
To naturally boost your iron levels, here, I am sharing a recipe which I consider a superfood recipe because this is the easiest way of eating enough leafy greens is to make Indian Delhi Saag. It is easy to make and compacts 1 kg of greens down to only 3 cups. It’s also perfect for vegetarians.
A single cup serving provides:
- 144% of your folate DV
- 42% of your magnesium DV
- 35% of your iron DV
- 31% of your calcium DV
- 1856% DV of vitamin K
- 620% DV of vitamin A
- 247% DV of vitamin C
- 104% DV of manganese
- 47% DV of vitamin E
- 28% DV of vitamin B-6
Yes, all that from a single cup of saag! And it’s delicious.
- Iron deficiency is common in women during their reproductive years
- Common causes of iron deficiency are not eating enough iron, excess exercise, pregnancy, kidney problems, and digestive problems
- Signs of iron deficiency are paleness, feeling out of breath, craving dirt or ice, and feeling exhausted all the time
- When testing your iron levels, take all 4 tests: serum iron, TIBC, transferrin saturation, and serum ferritin
- Foods high in iron include: liver, beef, sardines, beans, leafy greens and seeds
- Pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C boosts absorption of iron
- High-calcium foods, tea, coffee, and wine reduce the absorption of iron
- You can have excessive iron levels or haemochromatosis which is dangerous to your health. Donating blood is an excellent treatment
USDA pop up in chrome for iron levels of various foods