Feeling Cold? Understanding Iron Deficiency & Anemia

Crawling into bed with icicles for toes? Taking you forever to warm up? Having a hard time with our winter weather? Feeling cold is a classic sign of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is different than iron deficiency anemia (you may recognize this term if you’ve been told you’re anemic).

trying to stay warmAnemia indicates that your stored iron (ferritin) levels are below a certain range and the deficiency is having an effect on your red blood cells. This is when the majority of health practitioners will inform you it’s time to start taking an iron supplement, but you don’t need to be anemic to have low iron. Waiting until iron values are this low before intervening is not conducive to optimal health. Instead of getting by with insufficient iron, we want to thrive with optimal iron for the proper function of our physical body. This is why it’s crucial to understand iron testing, to know the appropriate values for menstruating and non-menstruating women for optimal health, or to speak with a Naturopath to properly assess this with you.

About 70% of your body’s iron is found in red blood cells and muscle cells. Iron in blood is essential for delivering oxygen from your lungs to all of your body tissues. Iron in muscle is needed to deliver oxygen to your muscle fibers so they can function. About 25% of the iron in the body is stored, called ferritin.

This storage/reserve iron is found in the liver, spleen, muscles and bone marrow. A small amount is found in the blood which allows us to test for it. On average, a healthy adult male has enough stored iron for 3 years, whereas women have enough for about 6 months. When iron intake or absorption is chronically low, stores become depleted and affect the ability of red blood cells to properly transport oxygen within the body.

What are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency?

  1. fatigued person staying in bedFatigue:
    This symptom is often over looked as we tend to attribute fatigue to our busy schedules, stress, lack of sleep and a host of other health or social reasons. Fatigue is multi-factorial, but something as simple as iron-deficiency is a major contributor to fatigue. Having insufficient iron means a lack of oxygen which makes you very physically and mentally fatigued. Quite simply, you can’t survive or thrive without adequate O2.
  3. Weakness:
    This goes hand in hand with the fatigue, if you aren’t getting enough oxygen to muscles and the energy production powerhouses of your cells, you are going to feel tired and weak. Many iron deficient individuals describe it as a heavy body, feeling like they are dragging themselves around while at the same time feeling disconnected from their bodies and a bit spacey. It’s common to also feel dizzy, lightheaded, or have frequent headaches.
  5. feeling cold and trying to stay warmFeeling Cold:
    Whether it’s cold hands and feet, an all over cold sensation or intolerance to cold, iron deficiency often makes us feel cold. If you struggle with this symptom it’s important to fully investigate thyroid as well. Hypothyroidism is another common reason to feel cold.
  7. Difficulty Breathing, Chest Pain & Fast Heartbeat:
    This often gets confused with anxiety in otherwise healthy women. Chest pain can be a bit alarming, but your heart is a muscle that’s continuously working and requires a great deal of oxygen to do so.

These are some of the predominant symptoms, but there are several others. If you experience any of the above regularly or suffer from frequent or heavy menstrual cycles, make sure you’ve been properly evaluated for iron deficiency.

In practice, I typically see women whose stored iron values are far too low for optimal health and rarely are they aware it was an issue. It’s time to find out if iron is the culprit behind those chilly fingers!

If you think you might be iron deficient, you might consider booking an appointment with me.

Stephanie Bristow

About Stephanie Bristow

I’m a Naturopathic Doctor working in Calgary at Healthy By Nature. I use an integrated, natural approach to treating patients that involves the use of supplements and botanicals.

Learn more about me here.
Book an appointment with me here.

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