Low Iron Linked with Muscle Health, Sleep, Mood, and Mitochondria

November 9, 2015 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Low Iron Linked with Muscle Health, Sleep, Mood, and Mitochondria
Do you have iron deficiency and not know it? Fatigue, weakness, and cold intolerance are common symptoms of low iron. Standard blood tests may not reflect early iron deficiency. There is, however, a special lab test that tells you how good your iron stores are even before extensive changes occur. This lab test is called serum ferritin. Serum ferritin levels reflect the actual amount of iron stores in the body. A depletion of iron stores indicates a functional deficiency and early iron deficiency, which can cause impairment of normal healthy function. There is more to low serum ferritin and iron deficiency than meets the eye.

When ferritin levels are low, there is inadequate iron transported in the red blood cells which then compromises oxygen transport. This can cause a number of symptoms related to iron deficiency. These include fatigue, weakness, headaches, dizziness/lightheadedness, hearing the heartbeat in the ear, feeling short of breath with simple tasks, feeling faint, cold sensitivity or unable to get and stay warm, cold hands and feet, pale skin and pale mucous membranes, yellowing or graying of the skin, hair loss, nails with ridges or depressed areas, irritability, poor mood, and craving ice or non-food items like dirt, sand, clay, starch, and paint.

Our bodies must maintain an adequate supply of iron in the body. Everyday bodily processes like sweating, urination, bowel movements, and sloughing off skin cause daily trace losses of iron. Heavy menstrual cycles, bleeding and poor absorption in the digestive tract, interference from acid blocking medications (Tums and Zantac), high bran/fiber intake (phytates), black tea and wines rich in tannins, inadequate iron intake and vegetarian diets compromise iron levels.  The adult recommended dietary intake to compensate for these daily basic needs is 18-20 milligrams of iron per day.

Iron is essential for the synthesis and use of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, adrenalin, and epinephrine. These major neurotransmitters help emotion, focus and attention, physical movement, pleasure and motivation, etc. Iron is essential for the fatty sheath or membrane around nerves, i.e. the myelin sheath. Without iron, nerve conduction is slowed throughout the body; even the parts of the brain that process sound and sight information are compromised.

In the world of fast food health care and practitioners who ignore or dismiss serum ferritin for the patient, the patient must be ready to take charge of their health. Low serum ferritin status has far reaching effects and dangerous risks. Compare the developing knowledge of vitamin D to serum ferritin. It has taken decades in modern medicine with vitamin D lab testing to become acceptable and commonplace. Like vitamin D, serum ferritin evaluation needs to occur. If the serum ferritin lab values are low, the next step is to determine why iron storage levels are exhausted. If your practitioner fails to do this, then find another practitioner to help you. Identifying the true cause of low iron levels and not speculation is the standard of care. Don’t let dismissive health care practices diminish your care.

To help replenish iron levels, ensure that your diet is rich in organic, free-range, grass-fed animal proteins, especially red meats and organic beef or chicken liver, molasses, and spinach. Animal proteins provide the best iron sources far superior to plant source. The fibers in plant sources readily compete against iron absorption. Iron supplementation is imperative if your serum ferritin levels are low. Use highly absorbable iron bisglycinate for a non-irritating, easily absorbable iron supplement. Add in extra vitamin C and make sure your thyroid is healthy, as these are other direct causes of low serum ferritin.

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