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Is iron deficiency the reason you're always tired?

Netdoctor (UK) logo Netdoctor (UK) 17/04/2019 Dr Emma Derbyshire
a woman taking a selfie: If you feel tired all the time, you are certainly not alone. But what many people don't realise is that there's more to it than just sleep. You might be getting eight hours a night but still feeling low on energy the following day. This is often down to a lack of iron. Nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire explains everything you need to know about iron deficiency and feeling tired: © JGI/Jamie Grill - Getty Images If you feel tired all the time, you are certainly not alone. But what many people don't realise is that there's more to it than just sleep. You might be getting eight hours a night but still feeling low on energy the following day. This is often down to a lack of iron. Nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire explains everything you need to know about iron deficiency and feeling tired:

If you feel tired all the time, you are certainly not alone. But what many people don't realise is that there's more to energy deficiency than just sleep. If you always clock eight hours a night but still feel exhausted the following day, you might be low on iron.

Nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire explains everything you need to know about iron deficiency and how this can dramatically impact your energy levels:

Does iron deficiency make you tired?

Exhausted young man rubbing eyes in cafe with laptop. © Getty Exhausted young man rubbing eyes in cafe with laptop. Tiredness is now such a common problem, doctors often use the abbreviation TATT - an acronym for Tired All The Time Syndrome. While there are many possible reasons behind feeling tired, one of the fist investigations is to check is a patient's iron levels.

In the UK checking for low iron levels is especially worthwhile. Findings from the recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) – the largest survey to assess dietary habits in the UK revealed that almost half of girls aged 11 to 18, and more than a quarter of women aged 19 to 64 were not getting the minimum intakes of iron recommended for good health.

Further research found that anaemia is a major concern in the UK. In fact, a lack of iron is the most common nutritional deficiency after vitamin D.

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Why do we feel overly tired?

MODEL RELEASED. Young woman with mug, yawning. © Getty MODEL RELEASED. Young woman with mug, yawning. So, why is exhaustion and iron deficiency at such epidemic levels? Well, firstly, the number of women not hitting the minimum recommended intake for iron has jumped by 17 per cent since the previous survey just two years previously.

Over the same period the consumption of iron-rich red meat has fallen by 13 per cent as vegetarian diets have become more popular. Red meat is an importance source of 'haem iron' – the form that is readily absorbed by the human body.

Unfortunately, iron from 'plant-based' sources, also known as 'non-haem' iron just doesn't hit the mark. For example, phytates which are found in beans, grains and nuts have been shown to slow iron absorption by as much as half. And other things we eat and drink – such as tannin in coffee can block absorption of non-haem iron, as do the polyphenols in some herbal teas, wine, chilli, cereals and legumes.

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Secondly, heavy periods and the use of non-hormonal intrauterine devices can lower iron levels along, with pregnancy and childbirth affecting iron absorption such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

And you might be surprised to know that running, especially on hard surfaces, can cause you to become iron deficient. It can trigger 'food strike hemolysis' – a process where red blood cells erupt due to the impact of the foot hitting the ground.

Together, the combination of these factors can mean that we are low in iron but high in exhaustion. Iron and energy are inextricably linked because this essential mineral is vital for transporting oxygen around the body.

How to top up your iron levels

spinach © Getty spinach If you are lacking in energy, the inclusion of red meat within UK diets is important as your body finds it six times easier to use the haem iron in the steak compared to the non-haem iron in the spinach.

It may also be worth giving supplements a go if you're feeling tired. 

What if iron tablets make me nauseous?

Not everyone gets on with iron tablets. They've been linked to nausea, constipation and stomach pain. It means some people stop taking them if they get side effects. But there is hope as a new form of iron is now available called Active Iron which boost iron levels without troublesome stomach side effects. So if you don't want to include more red meat in your diet and you're having difficulty with traditional iron capsules, that could be worth a try.

❗️Even though it's common, you shouldn't feel exhausted all the time. If you're worried, see your GP for advice.

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