Why are My Iron Levels Low All the Time?

Low iron can make you feel tired and fatigued all the timeDo you suffer from any of these?

  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Feeling weak
  • Getting tired easily during or after physical activity
  • Pale skin
  • Get injured easily
  • Brittle nails
  • Low immune system
  • Irritability
  • Body aches
  • Chest pains, a fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Fainting, dizziness or light-headedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Hair and skin problems
  • A sore tongue
  • Unusual cravings, such as ice, dirt or starch
  • Poor appetite (especially in infants and children)

If so, you may be deficient in iron.

How Your Body Uses Iron

Its main use is to transport oxygen in your body, but it supports many other body and mental functions as well.

  • Iron is essential for red blood cells to carry oxygen
    One of the most important functions of iron is in the creation of haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells, which transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without enough iron your body can't get enough oxygen, leading to you feeling tired or exhausted.
  • Iron helps convert food to energy
    ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is the body’s primary energy source, and our cells require iron to convert the energy from nutrients into ATP. (This process is known as cellular respiration.)  Low iron means less ATP, which is another reason why low iron levels can make you feel tired and fatigued all the time.
  • Iron helps maintain a normal immune system
    Iron is necessary to produce and mature your immune cells (especially lymphocytes), which protect us from bacteria and viruses.
  • Iron contributes to normal brain function
    Iron plays an important role in maintaining normal cognitive function, including memory, concentration, alertness, learning, intelligence, language, and problem solving. Maintaining a good level of iron in our bodies helps us to ensure our brain is performing correctly and at its best.

What Causes Low Iron

Some of the common causes of iron deficiency include

  • Lack of iron in the diet – there are two types of dietary iron, haem iron (found in animal tissue) and non-haem iron. The body absorbs haem iron much more easily than non-haem iron. Dietary intake of iron could be inadequate for a variety of reasons, including a poorly balanced vegetarian diet or fad dieting.
  • Low ability to absorb iron – healthy adults absorb only about 10% -15% of dietary iron, but some people’s bodies will absorb even less. Iron is absorbed through your stomach and small intestine, so if these are not functioning well it can cause problems. Often surgery to these areas (including a gastric bypass or gastric band) will also affect how much iron you can absorb.
    The iron in plant-based foods is much harder to absorb than the iron in animal foods. So if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to understand how to prepare iron-rich foods to make sure you absorb as much iron as possible.
  • Exercise – people who train a lot are prone to iron deficiency, because regular exercise increases the body’s need for iron in a number of ways. For example, iron is used to make new red blood cells, and hard training increases the rate of red cells being produced. Iron is also lost through sweating.
  • Inflammation – this is often overlooked as a cause of low iron, and one we commonly see in our clinic.
  • Blood loss – iron deficiency easily occurs in situations of chronic blood loss. Common causes include heavy menstrual periods, regular blood donation, regular nosebleeds, chronic disorders that involve bleeding (such as ulcers, hiatus hernia, bowel polyps or bowel cancer), and certain medications, particularly aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Increased need – an adolescent growth spurt, pregnancy and breastfeeding are situations when the body requires more iron. If this increased need isn’t met, a deficiency can quickly occur.
    Babies need breast milk or iron-fortified formula for the first year. Those who have cow's milk instead are more likely to develop an iron deficiency.

Why does inflammation matter?

In 2000, scientists discovered a compound called hepcidin, and deemed it the “Master Regulator” of iron metabolism.1 Essentially, hepcidin controls whether iron can get into and out of cells. This affects a few key processes related to iron metabolism:

  • Iron absorption from the digestive tract
  • Iron recycling from damaged cells
  • Release of iron from storage

Typically, hepcidin levels are increased when there is a high level of circulating iron. This reduces absorption of iron from the diet, reduces the amount of recycled iron released into the system, and converts more iron into the storage form, ferritin. All of this helps to protect the body from iron overload.

Inflammation can also cause hepcidin production to increase.2 The increase in response to inflammation helps our bodies defend against invading bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. Foreign invaders need iron to survive and thrive, just as we do. Therefore, the body responds by increasing hepcidin levels, causing much of the available iron to be converted to ferritin and put into storage. The lack of iron in the blood suppresses the ability of these invaders to grow and multiply.

Ferritin levels are usually a good measure of your overall iron status, but in the presence of inflammation, they may act as an immune response marker instead of an indicator of your iron stores.

However, inflammation in the body can come from other sources apart from invaders. These include strenuous exercise, a niggling injury, contraceptive pills, digestive problems, allergies or food intolerances, inflammatory bowel disease, excess weight, autoimmune diseases, poor diet, stress, and lack of sleep.

Understanding Your Blood Test

Your blood test will often include your levels of

  • Haemoglobin – which the red blood cells use to transport oxygen from your lungs to the cells of your body
  • Serum iron - measures the level of iron in the liquid part of your blood.
  • Transferrin - transferrin is a protein in your blood that transports iron, and your body produces transferrin according to your iron needs. When its iron stores are low, the transferrin levels should increase, and your levels should be low when there is too much iron. (Usually about one third of your transferrin is being used to transport iron.)
  • Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC)- this is a good indirect measurement of transferrin. (A pathology lab will normally measure either the transferrin levels or the TIBC.)
  • Transferrin saturation: this is the percentage of transferrin that is filled with iron.
  • Ferritin - ferritin is the main protein your body uses to store iron, so this is a measure of the amount of iron stored in your body

The balance of these readings is often helpful in determining what is causing your low iron.

In many types of iron deficiency the transferrin and TIBC may be high. Remember that the TIBC and transferrin are not measuring the amount of iron in the blood but the ability of the blood to carry iron. When the body lacks iron, it increases the amount of transferrin to gather as much of it as it can.

(Women using the contraceptive pill will often have high transferrin levels as well.)

On the other hand, those with chronic inflammation usually have low transferrin (or TIBC).

Here is a summary of the typical test results for the common types of iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency caused by Serum iron Transferrin or TIBC Transferrin
saturation
Ferritin
Low intake, low absorption, blood loss Low High Low Low
Chronic inflammation Low Low Low Normal / high

This chart is only a very general guide. For example, after strenuous exercise, your demand for oxygen will have increased, so your levels of transferrin will be higher short term. But if you over-exercise over a long period, the chronic inflammation may cause your transferrin levels to become low. And over time, if your body is not absorbing iron as fast as it is losing it, your ferritin levels will also become low.

So interpreting blood tests correctly requires careful evaluation, and a knowledge of the person’s diet and lifestyle.

Improving your iron levels

Obviously, the most important thing is to identify and address what is causing the problem. Having said that, some of the more common considerations are

  • Diet- an increase in foods that contain plenty of iron in an easily absorbed form is often important.
  • Absorption – it is very common to find that the person’s digestive system is not absorbing iron easily, so improving digestion is necessary most of the time.
    The tannins in tea and coffee bind to the iron and interfere with absorption, so cut back on the amount of these you drink, especially around mealtimes.
  • Address any inflammation or infection – low grade inflammation can occur almost anywhere in the body for a variety of reasons, however the digestive system is a very common source.

Taking iron supplements

Don’t take these if you don’t need to.

  • Unnecessary iron supplementation can interfere with your body’s absorption of other minerals, including zinc and copper.
  • Some prescribed iron supplements can cause constipation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, especially if they are taken on an empty stomach. Some can even cause internal bleeding (making the iron levels worse instead of better!).
  • About one in 300 people have haemochromatosis, which is an inherited disorder that causes the body to absorb more iron than normal. Excess iron damages their body’s tissues and increases their risk of cancers and heart disease. People with this condition need to limit how much iron they consume.

The best iron supplements are easily absorbed by the body, and contain extra vitamin C to increase the absorption rate. They contain a bio-available form of iron, and are very unlikely to cause any of the side effects associated with some of the others.

If your iron levels seem to be low all the time, just check with your doctor first to make sure there isn’t anything serious happening. Then we can check what is going on in your body and recommend the correct diet, supplements or treatment for you, to help you get your energy and spark back again. We even offer a free Comprehensive Assessment, to perform a detailed check of how your body is working and the best way to sort it out. (Terms and conditions- the Assessment is a free service, with no obligations whatsoever.) So if you would like to enjoy better energy and better health, please give us a call.

References:

  1. [1] Park, Christina H., et al. "Hepcidin, a urinary antimicrobial peptide synthesized in the liver." Journal of biological chemistry 276.11 (2001): 7806-7810.
  2.  [2] Ganz, Tomas, and Elizabeta Nemeth. "Iron sequestration and anemia of inflammation." Seminars in hematology. Vol. 46. No. 4. WB Saunders, 2009.

Naturopathy May be Covered Again by Health Funds

Government to Review Rebates for Natural Therapies

Naturopathy may be covered again by health fundsThe federal government stopped health funds covering most natural therapies from 1st April 2019. (Acupuncture and remedial massage are still covered.) However, after a backlash from supporters of natural therapies, the government has now commissioned a review of the evidence for naturopathy and a number of other natural therapies, to see if they should again be covered by the funds. The government had made it's original decision based on a 2014-15 review of natural therapies, which was clearly out of date.

Here is the press release from the Minister for Health announcing the review. Government Review of Natural Therapies for Health Funds

Also, here is a video by Dr Kerryn Phelps, a high-profile GP, saying why the government preventing health funds covering many natural therapies was a bad idea. On her Facebook page, she says "As a GP and conjoint professor at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine, I will continue to fight the Morrison Government’s decision to remove the complementary therapies yoga, pilates, tai chi, Western herbal medicine and naturopathy from receiving private health insurance rebates.

Practitioners want certainty and patients want choice. Internationally, health systems are adopting complementary therapies rather than shunning them.

Thousands of practitioners and patients have gotten in touch with me due to sheer frustration at the Government’s decision that comes into effect today. The medical evidence for complementary therapies exists and they can be part of an effective medical treatment program for patients.

A total of 16 natural therapies have been banned from receiving private health rebates from April 1 because the Morrison Government thinks they lack scientific evidence. The problem is that the evidence relied upon to make this decision was out of date, with no studies included that were more recent than 2014.

Around 80 per cent of Australians use natural medicines and treatments. The move was designed to push down private health premiums, but experts admit it will have a minimal impact.

I spoke to Sky News today and said the following: “I think that the net was cast far too wide for these complementary therapies. I have asked the Health Minister to reconsider the list of prohibited therapies and particularly to remove from that list yoga, tai chi, Western herbal medicine, naturopathy and pilates so that people can continue to get value from their private health insurance for these modalities.

“I think it is very important that both sides of Government understand the importance of integrated therapies for individual choice. We have people who are integrating a variety of complementary therapies which do have support, with evidence, for their healthcare, and particularly for their preventative healthcare and for recovery and rehabilitation.

“To not be able to get the value out of your private health insurance by being able to use these therapies of choice is a very backwards step. It is certainly out of step with what is happening internationally. One example is that for low back pain in the NHS in the UK, first line therapies are tai chi and yoga, yet these are two of the therapies that are being removed from the list of subsidies for private health insurance - I think that this needs a rethink.”

Open Day Special Offer

Saturday 1st June 2019

Open Day Special OfferDiscover a Happier, Healthier You

Would you like to feel well, have more energy, get rid of a constant pain, or be free of a health problem that won’t go away?

Would you like to experience naturopathy or acupuncture, and have a 15 minute massage?

At our Open Day, you can find out if natural therapies can resolve your health issues, or help you to enjoy a happier, healthier and more vital version of yourself. The Day includes

  • 15-20 minutes with a naturopath (to find out about naturopathy, or how naturopathy can help your condition), and
  • 15-20 minutes with an acupuncturist (to find out about acupuncture, see if acupuncture can help your condition, or have a short demonstration treatment), and
  • 15-20 minutes with a massage therapist (to have a massage, or be assessed and find out if massage can effectively treat your condition)

Bookings are essential and cost just $15 (payable at the time of booking). On the day you can choose to put this value towards the cost of a full treatment at our clinic, or we will donate it to a local charity, Enhanced Care. (Enhanced Care do great work providing respite care for children and young adults with high needs/multiple impairments.)

So if you have an ongoing health problem, are tired all the time, or in pain, this special offer could be the beginning of a great new chapter of your life. Please book online or give us a call on 33766911 now to secure your place.

Make an online booking here:
Book Now

FREE
Comprehensive
Assessment

Valued at $120, your Assessment will help to uncover:

  • What is going on with your body
  • What is working properly and what is not working properly
  • What is causing the problem, and
  • The best way to get it sorted out

All this will be fully explained to you, and you can ask as many questions as you like. That way we can be sure to give you all of the right information, understanding and advice you need. Terms and conditions: This is a free, no obligation offer.

CONTACT

62 Looranah St,
Jindalee QLD 4074
07 3376 6911
reception@cntc.com.au

AWARDS

Winner Business Achievers Award 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 & 2012
Inducted into Business Achievers Hall of Fame 2009
LPA Outstanding High Achievement Award 2011
Mt Ommaney Small Business Award (Health & Fitness) 2018 & 2020

YOUNGCARE

We help provide care and accommodation to young disabled people through regular support of YoungCare (by donating the proceeds of our Gift Voucher sales)

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