Are you getting enough iron?

Balancing the supply and demand for iron in your body is important to maintain good health. Normally your iron levels remain in balance, with iron from your diet replacing the iron stores used up by your body.1 The iron in your food is absorbed into the bloodstream in your small intestine.1

The supply and demand for iron in your body can become unbalanced for a number of reasons and this can lead to iron deficiency.

You can also download the “Are you getting enough iron?” article as a PDF.

A decreased supply of iron to your body can be caused by…

A lack of iron in your diet.

Iron can be found in both animal products and plant foods. Iron from animal products (known as haem iron) is better absorbed by your body than iron from plant foods (known as non-haem iron).1 If you are vegetarian or vegan it is more likely that you will not be getting enough iron.2 Choosing what you eat wisely can help to keep your iron levels up.

Iron from your food not being absorbed properly in your small intestine.

If you have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) or coeliac disease, then the lining of your small intestine may be inflamed. This means that less iron can be absorbed from your food into your bloodstream.3–5

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Blood loss, for example as a result of:

  • Heavy periods2
  • Internal bleeding from your gut (gastro-intestinal bleeding)3
  • Frequent blood donation6
  • Traumatic injuries/ accidents7,8
  • Surgery7,9,10

Increased demand for red blood cells or oxygen in your body, for example as a result of:

  • Intense exercise11
  • Growth and development in children and adolescents1
  • Pregnancy2

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Increased demand for red blood cells or oxygen in your body, for example as a result of:

If you have a condition that involves chronic inflammation, your immune system can block the release of iron from your body’s iron stores, reducing the amount of iron available to make red blood cells.12

Other medical conditions and/or therapies, such as haemodialysis for patients with kidney disease.

If you are not getting enough iron, for any reason, you might find yourself lacking in energy and feeling exhausted day after day. While there are other symptoms of iron deficiency, extreme tiredness or fatigue is often reported by patients.4

References 

  1. Hurrell R, Egli I. Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91:1461-1467. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.28674F.Am.
  2. Killip S, Bennett JM, Chambers MD. Iron deficiency anemia. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(5):671-8.
  3. Stein J, Hartmann F, Dignass AU. Diagnosis and management of iron deficiency anemia in patients with IBD. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010;7(11):599-610. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2010.151.
  4. Miller JL. Iron deficiency anemia: a common and curable disease. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2013;3(7):1-13. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a011866.
  5. Presutti RJ, Cangemi JR, Cassidy HD, Hill D a. Celiac disease. Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(12):1795-802.
  6. Finch CA, Cook JD, Labbe RF, Culala M. Effect of blood donation on iron stores as evaluated by serum ferritin. Blood. 1977;50(3):441-7.
  7. Yip R, Parvanta I, Cogswell M, et al. Recommendations to prevent and control iron deficiency in the United States. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1998;47(RR-3):1-29.
  8. Topley E, Clarke R. The anemia of trauma. Blood. 1956;11(4):357-69.
  9. Love AL, Billett HH. Obesity, bariatric surgery, and iron deficiency: true, true, true and related. Am J Hematol. 2008;83(5):403-9. doi:10.1002/ajh.21106.
  10. Foss NB, Kehlet H. Hidden blood loss after surgery for hip fracture. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 2006;88(8):1053-9. doi:10.1302/0301-620X.88B8.17534.
  11. Goddard AF, James MW, McIntyre AS, Scott BB. Guidelines for the management of iron deficiency anaemia. Gut. 2011;60(10):1309-16. doi:10.1136/gut.2010.228874.
    +. ‘Listless/washed out/ cranky’ from Vifor Pharma group research

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