Iron deficiency is a worldwide phenomenon that manifests itself through fatigue, paleness and anemia , among other things. Iron is one of the most important micronutrients in our body – too much iron is not good for your health (but it is rare), while iron deficiency can also be problematic and is relatively common.

Here you can find out everything you need to know about the symptoms and possible causes of iron deficiency . In addition, I will inform you how you can eliminate or prevent a defic

Iron is not just iron

First of all, iron is an essential mineral that enters the body through the consumption of iron-containing foods. There it is present in a proportion of less than 50 mg per kg of body weight. Because of this ratio, it is one of the trace elements (as well as copper and manganese ).

It is important to know that it makes a difference whether iron comes from a vegetable or animal source:

  1. Animal iron , also divalent iron or heme iron, is found in meat, fish and seafood. In this form, the body can absorb and utilize the trace element well.
  2. Vegetable iron , also trivalent iron or non-heme iron, is found in legumes and leafy vegetables, among other things. Iron of this type forms compounds with substances that inhibit iron absorption. These include lignin, oxalic acid and phytic acid. Such complexes are only sparingly soluble. So that they can be used by the body, an extra digestive process must take place, which ensures that they are broken down. (Vitamin C increases the absorption of vegetable iron from food, while vitamin C reduces trivalent iron to divalent iron.)

Once in our organism, iron fulfills a number of important functions:

What an iron deficiency means – The important functions of iron in the body

  1. The trace element is involved in the formation of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is an important protein in the erythrocytes (red blood cells) and is responsible for the red color of our blood.
  2. No oxygen – no life. With the help of hemoglobin, the valuable element is transported through our blood to our tissues and stored. As you now know, however, the trace element iron is required for its formation.
  3. Iron also participates in the energy metabolism. Many enzymes are iron-dependent in the formation of ATP, such as the cytochrome C oxidases in the mitochondria . Without the trace element we would run out of strength.
  4. A healthy thyroid also needs enough iron to produce the all-important thyroid hormones. More precisely, thyroid peroxidase is an iron-containing enzyme.
  5. In addition, it plays a role in the synthesis of amino acids, unsaturated fatty acids and collagen . It also contributes to the production of hormones (dopamine, testosterone, vitamin D3) and enzymes with antioxidant potential (catalase).

How much iron does the body need?

In order for iron to fulfill its functions, it is necessary to supply the trace element with food every day. It should be noted that the body only absorbs certain proportions of iron from plant and animal foods. These proportions are even lower in plant-based foods, as they contain non-heme iron.

The recommended daily intake varies widely and depends on age and gender [1]:


  • 0 to less than 4 months: 0.5 mg
  • 4 to less than 12 months: 8 mg


  • 1 to under 7 years: 8 mg
  • 7 to under 10 years: 10 mg
  • 10 to under 15 years: 12 mg (m) / 15 mg (w)

Teenagers and adults:

  • 15 to under 19 years: 12 mg (m) / 15 mg (w)
  • 19 to under 51 years: 10 mg (m) / 15 mg (w)
  • 51 years and older: 10 mg (m) / 10 mg (w)

Pregnant women are recommended to use 30 mg iron per day as they need to meet the needs of the fetus in addition to their own needs. The daily iron requirement during breastfeeding is 20 mg.

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How does an iron deficiency manifest itself? 10 symptoms that might indicate it

Iron is a common nutrient deficiency worldwide. In Germany alone, according to the National Consumption Study II, 14% of men and 58% of women do not achieve the recommended daily intake [2].

Women are more frequently affected, as experience has shown that they eat little iron-rich foods such as red meat and liver and lose a lot of blood (and thus iron) every month due to menstruation.

Iron deficiency develops in stages . First, the content of storage iron (ferritin) decreases (to below 35 mg / dl one speaks of an acute deficiency). At this stage, the iron deficiency is mostly symptom-free. If the iron stores are finally empty, blood formation is disturbed and symptoms occur that are typically associated with iron deficiency.

# 1 iron deficiency anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a form of anemia caused by impaired production of the protein hemoglobin (= red blood pigment). If the hemoglobin building material iron is deficient, not enough hemoglobin can consequently be formed, which leads to iron deficiency anemia.

Many of the symptoms described below are side effects of impaired hemoglobin formation or iron deficiency anemia.

# 2 fatigue and loss of energy

When we breathe in, oxygen is transported through our airways to the lungs, where it then enters the blood through the thin-walled alveoli that are enclosed by blood vessels. Once in the juice of life, oxygen binds to hemoglobin. In the next step, the red blood pigment transports oxygen to our cells and organs, which generate energy from it.

If there is reduced hemoglobin formation due to an iron deficiency, the body tissues cannot be supplied with sufficient oxygen. The consequences are loss of energy and fatigue, which are known as typical iron deficiency symptoms [3–4].

On the finishing line? Then you should pay attention to your iron intake. Because without the essential trace element we run out of strength.

# 3 paleness

Perhaps you’ve already figured it out – the reason for the paleness that often occurs in the wake of iron deficiency is an insufficient level of hemoglobin, which normally makes our skin appear red and fresh.

When iron levels drop, the body produces less blood and our appearance becomes pale [5].

The paleness caused by iron deficiency can appear all over the body, or it is limited to certain areas such as the face, gums, nails, the inside of the lips or the lower eyelids [6].

# 4 shortness of breath

If there is a lack of iron, there is a lack of hemoglobin and oxygen. This fatal chain reaction can lead to even the most mundane activities, such as B. walking or climbing stairs, become a torture, as the muscles are only insufficiently supplied with oxygen [7].

It is not uncommon for the body to try to compensate for the lack of oxygen with a higher breathing rate and shortness of breath occurs [4].

# 5 Headache and dizziness

Overall, headache and dizziness are rarely occurring symptoms; women are more likely to be affected than men [4; 8th].

These two side effects of iron deficiency are also related to hemoglobin. Just like all other tissues, our brain depends on a good supply of oxygen. If less of it reaches our control center, the blood vessels located there can swell, which causes increasing pressure and a subsequent headache.

# 6 racing heart

In order to compensate for the inadequate transport of oxygen into our tissues, the heart works harder and faster than normal. This can cause an irregular heartbeat or a racing heart [4].

The faster beating of our heart can also lead to faster fatigue in everyday life and in sports.

# 7 Impact on hair, skin, and nails

Since our skin and hair are also dependent on the supply of oxygen, the symptoms of iron deficiency can also manifest themselves in them. Skin and hair can dry out and be damaged; Iron deficiency has even been linked to hair loss [9-10].

In addition, symptoms that occur around the mouth can indicate an existing iron deficiency:

  • dry or burning mouth,
  • cracked corners of the mouth (rhagades),
  • swollen tongue.

Brittle nails can also indicate an iron deficiency. In extreme cases, so-called “koilonychia” or “spoon nails” occur. The nails curve inwards and form a hollow that resembles a spoon [11].

# 8 restless legs syndrome (RLS, restless legs)

An iron deficiency can be the cause of Restless Legs Syndrome [12]. This occurs at rest, especially in the evening or at night, and manifests itself in restlessness, tension, and sometimes an unpleasant tingling sensation, stinging or pulling in the legs.

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Those affected constantly feel the need to move, tense or stretch their legs. Actions of this kind bring relief; However, it does not last long. Since RLS manifests itself primarily at night, those affected often suffer from insomnia.

Restless legs syndrome can have other causes as well; however, around 25% of people suffering from iron deficiency also complain about the phenomenon of restless legs [13].

# 9 Hypothyroidism and feelings of cold

A strong sensitivity to cold and frequent freezing can also indicate an iron deficiency. The hands and feet are often affected.

This is not only related to restricted blood flow, but mostly also to an underactive thyroid. Iron can be a bottleneck here and inhibit the formation of the important thyroid hormones, because an important enzyme, thyroid peroxidase (forms fT4), needs iron.

It is therefore particularly important for women with an underactive thyroid or even Hashimoto to eliminate an existing iron deficiency.

# 10 Pica Syndrome

Pica syndrome is an eating disorder in which those affected ingest substances that are unsuitable for consumption or develop an appetite for these substances, e.g. B. earth, sand or paper.

It is believed that certain nutritional deficiencies , such as B. iron deficiency, can in rare cases be responsible for the pica syndrome [14].

The symptoms of iron deficiency at a glance:

  • Anemia,
  • Fatigue and loss of energy,
  • Paleness,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Headache and shingling sensations,
  • Palpitations,
  • dry and damaged skin and hair,
  • brittle nails,
  • Restless Legs Syndrom,
  • Feelings of coldness,
  • Pica Syndrome.

What are the causes of iron deficiency and who is particularly affected?

There are various causes that can be responsible for an iron deficiency. They are related to decreased supply and intake, as well as increased iron loss and need.

Iron supply

The development of an iron deficiency can be favored by a one-sided and poor diet. Alcoholism, a strict diet or certain nutritional concepts such as veganism and vegetarianism can also cause a deficiency.

It should be noted here that vegetarians and vegans do consume foods that contain iron. However, since these are herbal products, the iron supplied is so-called non-heme iron and therefore less bioavailable [15–16].

Iron absorption

If you get enough iron in your food, you still only get half the battle. In order for iron to be able to fulfill its tasks in the body, it must first be absorbed in the small intestine. However, the process of absorption can be disturbed.

For example, certain diseases cause a reduced absorption of iron, for example celiac disease or inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The presence of stomach ulcers can also affect iron absorption.

In addition, there are some medications that can prevent enough iron from being absorbed. Among other things, these are laxatives, deacidifying gastric agents, certain antibiotics as well as calcium, zinc and magnesium preparations.

There are also certain foods that prevent iron absorption in the intestine. These include coffee , black tea, dairy products and white flour products.

Iron loss

Up to 1 mg of iron is lost every day through sweat, urine and stool alone. For active athletes who produce a lot of sweat through exercise, this value is even higher. Accordingly, it is advisable for athletes to take in more iron, as a deficiency has a negative impact on performance.

The valuable trace element is also lost in the course of operations or blood donations. In addition, through heavy menstrual bleeding, bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract or blood loss through the urinary tract.

Iron requirement

Pregnant and breastfeeding women have a much higher need for iron. Since iron is also necessary for blood formation and during growth, children also have an increased need. Conversely, this means that the named groups of people are exposed to a higher risk of iron deficiency.

How is iron deficiency diagnosed?

To diagnose iron deficiency, a blood sample can be examined for various values:

  • Serum ferritin (storage iron ): To diagnose an iron deficiency, the determination of the serum ferritin value is the most informative and most sensitive method. Because as soon as the body lacks iron, the ferritin levels drop. (If there is inflammation in the body at the same time , the value can, however, be increased and conceal a possible iron deficiency.). A value below 50 is a sign of insufficient supply, below 35 mg / dl an iron deficiency is likely.
  • Hb value (hemoglobin value) : This value shows how much iron is currently in the blood. Statements about the state of the iron stores cannot be made with this value, because the Hb value only drops when the iron stores are exhausted. This means that although the Hb values ​​are in the green, an iron deficiency could already be developing.
  • Transferrin saturation: Transferrin is a transport protein whose job it is to supply our body cells with iron. Transferrin saturation is a value expressed as a percentage. It indicates what percentage of the transferrin is loaded with iron. If there is an iron deficiency, the transferrin saturation is low – that is, there are correspondingly few transport proteins loaded with iron.
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Note : an iron deficiency in the blood and an increased ferritin value speaks for chronic inflammation in the body, possibly even for a chronic infection. Here the body wants to “snatch” the iron away from the pathogens).

A visit to a doctor can clarify whether there is an iron deficiency. However, there are now convenient alternatives: blood tests to take at home. For example from proven manufacturers such as Lykon. Order a test kit at home, take a small blood sample and then send it to a certified partner laboratory. After a short time, you will be able to see your values ​​online and receive tips on how to change your diet.

Our tip: With the Lykon myHealth & Fitness * you can test the status of several vital parameters (not just iron). With the discount code Gesund15 you save 15%.

How can you prevent or eliminate an iron deficiency?

As in the case of all minerals , Mother Nature has plenty of food ready for us that provide us with the very substances we urgently need. Foods containing iron are available in both animal and vegetable form.

In other words: there is something for everyone! In the following table you will find foods that have a particularly high iron content.

Ferrous foods Iron content in mg per 100 g
Pork liver 18
Beef liver 8-12
Red meat 2-3
Oysters 6,25
shrimp 1,8
Owner 2,1
Spinach * 4,1
Salsify 3,3
fennel 2,7
lenses 7,5
Chickpeas 6,9
White beans 6,1
Currants 1,3
millet 9
oatmeal 4,6
Nature trip 2,6
Cocoa powder, slightly de-oiled 12–15

* You have probably heard that spinach is THE iron-containing food in the first place. As you can see, the leafy green vegetables actually contain a considerable amount. Note, however, that it is “only” the less usable non-heme iron. So there is only something to the myth to a limited extent.

To meet your daily needs, consuming foods containing iron is without a doubt the best and healthiest way. If your need is increased or there is an iron deficiency, iron supplements can be an alternative. Make sure you use an appropriate dose.

Der Vitamin C Trick

Would you like to support the absorption of iron? Then the answer is vitamin C! Organic acids (citric and lactic acid and amino acids such as methionine and cysteine ) also contribute to the absorption of vegetable iron in particular.

So if you decide to have a meal with a food containing iron such as spinach, you are well advised to add a splash of lemon to your dish or to drink a glass of lemon water or orange juice with it. You can use these simple tricks to help your body absorb non-heme iron.

Quite simple tricks, like a squeeze of lemon, can improve the rate of iron absorption from your meal.

Another nutrient that has a positive effect on iron metabolism is copper. The essential trace element promotes the absorption of iron. It is contained in beef liver, cashew nuts, oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms, among other things .

There are also substances that inhibit iron absorption. These include calcium and polyphenols, which z. B. are contained in coffee and black tea. That is not to say that coffee and black tea are unhealthy – on the contrary. But in the future, for example, you could be careful to consume these beverages between meals and not during them.

Summary of iron deficiency

As an essential trace element, iron is of great importance for us and our well-being. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world. Germany is no exception in this regard.

The cause of a deficiency can be a reduced supply and absorption as well as an increased loss and requirement of iron.

If there is an iron deficiency, it manifests itself through a variety of symptoms, including anemia, tiredness and paleness. Dry skin, brittle nails and feelings of cold can also be indications.

In order to eliminate or prevent iron deficiency, we recommend consuming foods that contain iron. Note that iron from animal sources is more bioavailable than iron from plant foods. With the help of simple tricks (e.g. a squirt of lemon) you can give your body a hand during the recording.

You can measure a deficiency with a blood test at the doctor or with a home blood test from Lykon. Our tip: With the Lykon myHealth & Fitness * you can test the status of several vital parameters (not just iron). With the discount code Gesund15 you save 15%.

We hope you enjoyed the post! Do you have any questions or comments? Then feel free to get in touch!

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