Feeling worn out & tired? Is iron the answer?

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Iron – is it really the answer to tiredness?

We have numerous people come into the store seeking iron to help with their tiredness and fatigue. Often, after having in depth discussion, we send them away without iron but with a product that will help in a different way with sleep or energy. Why – because we try very hard to figure out whether a deficiency is iron is the likely issue causing their tiredness and fatigue. We often send people off for in iron test first. If you are not deficient in iron, taking it is not going to help with tiredness and fatigue, and in certain instances it can even be harmful. We want to help our customers, not sell them products that won’t work for them.

Why then, does everyone talk about iron supplements for tiredness?

The answer to this lies in the roles that iron performs in the body. Iron has many uses but three areas in particular, may affect how someone feels in terms of energy. The first is that iron is a key component of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. This means that when you are low in iron, you might feel short of breath when you do physical activity, for example like climbing a flight of stairs or running around with your kids. And many people are on our feet all day, doing physical work which requires energy.

Iron is important in unlocking the energy from food. Right down at cellular level, iron is required to release the energy from glucose during the Krebs Cycle. If you are unable to release energy efficiently from food, fatigue can occur.

The third area of iron involvement is immunity. In short, iron is required for white blood cells to mature so they can then amount an immune response. If you are low in iron, a sign may be that you are getting ongoing infections & that certainly doesn’t help the way you feel.

If I have all these signs, am I deficient?

This is where it gets tricky. The answer is not necessarily. But there are some other things to look at that can help paint the picture.

  1. Are you vegetarian or vegan? Certainly not all vegetarians are low in iron but if you have the signs discussed above, it is worth being tested.
  2. How is your gut health? If there are issues with the digestive system, this can make a difference. Taking certain medications to reduce stomach acid can affect absorption of minerals including iron. Having Coeliac or Crohns may affect the ability to absorb nutrients. Stomach ulcers can lead to bleeding & loss of iron. If general if gut health isn’t quite right, its worth investigating further, both for iron deficiency and other issues.
  3. For menstruating women, heavy flow can reduce iron & blood clots are also a sign of deficiency.

If any of these are occurring, it is worth getting an iron test (& also get your doctor to check your health in general). You want to ensure your doctor tests your iron stores, not just your ferratin level, as what you have recently eaten will influence your blood levels of iron.

If I am deficient – what then?

The answer depends on why you are deficient. But the first answer is always eat well, whether you are a vegetarian or meat eater. Leafy greens are really important & add you can add spirulina into your diet. If you are a meat eater, have red meat a couple of times or more in a week, until things even out (along with the leafy greens). And be aware that iron competes with calcium for uptake into the body. Think twice about having your spaghetti bolognaise with cheese!

If gut health is the issue, or you are having issues with heavy bleeding, then ensure you get help from a healthcare provider.


When you read my blogs, you will note always, that I will say all supplements are not created equally. Iron supplements are no exception. Firstly, if you just have an ongoing tendency to have low iron, spirulina (of a good quality) in tablets or powder can be fabulous. Its iron is easily accessible for a plant food, and it also contains B vitamins required for energy and a host of other minerals & essential nutrients. However, if you are really deficient in iron, it won’t be enough on its own.

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Generally the form of iron which you get on prescription from the doctor is in the form of ferrous fumerate or ferrous sulphate. There can be side effects with these, most notably constipation (& sometimes loose stools) & blackening of the stools. Some people also experience digestive complaints and nausea. Prescribed iron also tends to be a very high dose at once, which may be the part of the reason for the side effects.

Supplements you can buy are ususally in a different form, with the iron either chelated to an amino acid or in the diglycinate form. These tend to be easier on the digestive system. Anecdotally it is rare for us to hear complaints about iron in these forms from our customers. Liquid iron supplements are also available. Generally you need to take these for a bit longer to replenish your iron stores. But as always, address the underlying cause if you can.

Two important things to be aware of when taking iron supplements. The first is that Vitamin C helps iron absorption. Its a good idea to take your iron with a dash of orange juice (or similar), or if you use vitamin C tablets, take them at the same time.

Iron completes with other minerals to get carried into the body, especially calcium. Iron is best taken on an empty stomach to help the absorption. Avoid taking with milk or a cup of tea.

Check out my favourite iron supplements here

If you have read this, and you don’t think iron is the issue, what next?

There are other natural products and nutrients that can help with energy & sleep. For energy release, B vitamins are required and can be taken supplementary. Nutrients such as CoQ10 can be helpful. These can depend on why the energy is low in the first instance. If sleep is the issues there are numerous herbs and nutrients that can help. The best thing is to talk to us about your individual circumstances. Click for energy supplements or sleep.

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Written by Shelley O’Brien, B Com, Dip Clin Nut & Owner of Homestead Health

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