MegaFood | May 2022

Do you think that you may have low iron? If you do, rest assured that you’re in good company. Did you know that low iron is something that affects approximately 10 million people in the United States, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH)? This statistic includes 5 million people who are affected by low iron, specifically.

For this article on all things low iron, we tapped Woodstock, New York-based physician Teresa Foster, D.O., board certified in family medicine, in order to learn more about this affliction. We’ll talk about how low iron can affect the body in terms of symptoms, how low iron differs from anemia and what to do should you notice that you’re experiencing any of those signs of low iron. We’ll also recommend a supplement that can help those dealing with low iron. Let’s get to it.

Iron Deficiency Symptoms

Let’s talk symptoms. Iron deficiency can be temporary and perhaps related to things like pregnancy, menstruation, or a host of other reasons. Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency are listed below.

What are the top 5 symptoms of low iron, in particular? Dr. Foster says that they include fatigue, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, hair and nail changes and pica—which is the medical term for chewing ice. A few more symptoms include cold hands and feet, chest pain and extreme pallor.

If you notice these symptoms, and often they go together, definitely check in with your doctor to determine if you have an iron deficiency.

There is a difference between low iron and anemia

You have probably heard the terms “low iron” and “anemia.” But what exactly is the difference between low iron and anemia? Dr. Foster says that anemia is a broad term that is defined by lack of red blood cells. It can also be described though in terms of hemoglobin and/or hematocrit, she adds. Hematocrit levels that are either too high or too low can be indicative of a blood disorder, dehydration, or even other medical conditions. “Hemoglobin is the vital part of a red blood cell that carries oxygen,” Dr. Foster explains. “Iron is one of the building blocks for hemoglobin,” she adds.

Dr. Foster says that often, some people describe anemia as “low iron”—however that is only one cause of anemia. “If you don’t have enough iron in your diet, or are losing blood somewhere (for example via an ulcer or your menstrual period) you won’t have enough iron to replace your hemoglobin and build new red blood cells,” Dr. Foster explains. She notes that women, in particular, are more likely to have anemia than men due to their menstruation and childbirth.

Is there a difference between low iron and iron deficiency?

Dr. Foster says that actually, there isn’t. “One is the more common phrase for the other,” she says.

Always seek a doctor’s advice when it comes to low iron

If you or a family member is experiencing any of the above symptoms that suggest that you might have low iron, you should make an appointment to go see your doctor. Getting a professional opinion is key in this instance, as it’s important to remember that low iron isn't something you should self diagnose or treat. Your doctor may prescribe iron supplements for you to take, either over the counter or prescription-only.

Why you don’t want to take too much iron

Note that you want to be careful so as not to overload your body with iron. Why is it that taking too much iron can overload your system? Dr. Foster says that most people who eat an omnivorous diet—this kind of diet includes meat—do not need to supplement their iron. She notes that in fact, we absorb iron best from our meat sources in our diet. “Too much iron gets stored as ferritin in the liver and can cause liver failure over time,” Dr. Foster explains. She adds that “iron supplements are often elemental iron or iron sulfate which is difficult to absorb and much of it stays in the gut and can cause constipation.”

In search of iron? Try MegaFood Blood Builder, our top-selling over-the-counter iron supplement you might want to try. But of course, always keep your doctor in the loop when it comes to taking iron supplements.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.