A few months ago I started experiencing bouts of substantial fatigue, irritability and a general feeling of malaise. Nothing in my life had really changed so I was unsure what the source of this unwelcome emotional state was. As a vegetarian for the last 5 years my first instinct was to do some research online and see what dietary issues may be causing these symptoms. Within minutes I started seeing the term ‘iron deficiency’ in each website I landed on. In addition to being a vegetarian I also work out 46-60 minutes a day 6-7 days a week. These two lifestyle factors commonly lead to iron deficiency in pre-menopausal women. The most common signs of iron deficiency include:

Extreme fatigue and weakness. Beyond the feeling of exhaustion you have after working a long day this type of fatigue feels like a weakness that comes from within your bones themselves. I sometimes felt so tired I could hardly lift my chest to breathe, which leads to another common symptom…

Shortness of breath. As much as I would try to center myself and take long, deep, breaths there were times I felt like I couldn’t get enough oxygen (iron helps to transport oxygen throughout your body!). A few times this became so severe I felt as though I was having a panic attack!

Headaches and lightheadedness. These result from the lack of adequate oxygen reaching the brain as well as the shortness of breath.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it’s important to get blood work done before deciding to treat yourself with iron supplements. If you feel like you may have some of these indicators it wouldn’t hurt to increase intake of foods which naturally have higher levels of iron. Some of my favorites are spinach, lentils, soybeans, tofu, chickpeas or any type of bean. The general recommendation is 18 mg a day for women 18-50 years old and just one cup of spinach will give you over 6 mg! 

After upping my iron intake 6 months ago I have noticed a substantial increase in energy, regularity of my periods (amenorrhea being another sign of iron deficiency) absence of panic attacks and a generally improved mood. This past weekend I forgot to take my iron supplements and didn’t realize why I was feeling so blah until my boyfriend kindly asked why I seemed so blue the last few days. I am now reminded why it is so important to keep a balanced diet to ensure adequate nutrition and am looking forward to spending the afternoon making massive quantities of my favorite spinach lentil soup.


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