To function properly, the human body relies on a variety of nutrients, and iron plays an important role. This essential mineral is important to the production of hemoglobin, a protein responsible for the transport of oxygen to cells and tissues. People who don't get enough iron in their diet may develop an iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia. Iron-deficient anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, and people who have it often experience extreme fatigue. While anemia is a well-known symptom of too little iron, people may not be aware of six additional iron deficiency symptoms.
1. Hair Loss
With iron deficiency, the body goes into survival mode, conserving oxygen for its most vital functions. Unfortunately, protecting hair follicles falls low on the priority list. Before getting too anxious about a few extra hairs in the brush however, people should be aware that a loss of about 100 hairs per day is normal.
2. Swollen Tongue
In addition to affecting hemoglobin, iron deficiency lowers levels of myoglobin. This protein impacts muscles in the body, including the tongue, which can become swollen and sore, a condition known as glossitis.
3. Frequent Sickness
When body cells don't receive enough oxygen, the entire immune system takes a hit. This is why people who are iron deficient often experience frequent illness, especially affecting the respiratory tract.
4. Pale Skin
Hemoglobin is responsible for blood's red color, so low levels result in less rosy skin. For people with lighter skin, this is one of the most noticeable iron deficiency symptoms. People with a darker complexion can check the skin on the inside of the lips, gums, and bottom eyelids, which is also affected.
5. Restless Leg Syndrome
Research shows that some people develop restless leg syndrome (RLS) because of a dopamine abnormality, but a study published in Movement Disorders also found that RLS can be a symptom of iron deficiency. According to experts at Johns Hopkins University, roughly 15 percent of people with RLS are deficient in iron.
Related: Some Facts about Restless Leg Syndrome
Pica is the craving or consumption of unusual substances like chalk, clay, dirt, or paper, and medical experts have yet to understand exactly why it develops. According to research published in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, pica (also called pagophagia) "is frequently associated with iron deficiency, and iron supplementation is an effective therapy in most cases."
In addition to these symptoms, iron-deficient people may also experience shortness of breath, headache, and anxiety, and women may have heavier-than-normal menstruation.
People concerned about iron deficiency can try various food sources to see if symptoms subside. Good options include red meat, chicken, blackstrap molasses, clams, spinach, lentils, nuts, sunflower seeds, and chick peas. Before taking iron supplements people should see a medical professional for a ferritin test to establish iron levels. Too much iron can increase risks for cancer, diabetes, and heart attack, particularly as one ages.