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Iron is an essential mineral necessary for the transport of oxygen throughout the body. It is carried by red blood cells and transports oxygen from your lungs to all the tissues of your body. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when there is a lack of iron in your red blood cells, leading to inadequate transport of oxygen to your tissues and organs. Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common causes of fatigue.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Include

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Problems concentrating or thinking

  • Sore tongue

  • Feeling lightheaded when you stand up

  • Shortness of Breath

  • Brittle Nails

  • Hair loss

Diagnosis of Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency anemia is diagnosed by blood tests that should include a complete blood count (CBC) and serum ferritin. Iron, total iron-binding capacity, and/or transferrin can also be evaluated. In an individual is anemic due to a lack of iron lab results may show:

  • Low haemoglobin (Hg) and hematocrit (Hct)

  • Low mean cellular volume (MCV)

  • Low ferritin

  • Low serum iron (FE)

  • High transferrin or total iron-binding capacity (TIBC)

  • Low iron saturation

Often times patients will be experiencing the symptoms of an iron deficiency but told that their iron levels are fine. This is because the normal reference ranges the labs provide are extremely broad. Depending on the lab, normal ranges can be from 10-300 ug/L. We all have difference requirements and metabolisms. Some patients may experience iron deficiency symptoms at 50 ug/L, and other may be asymptomatic at 30 ug/L. Ferritin should be tested in any patients who are experiencing the symptoms discussed above.

A recent double blind placebo controlled study looking at iron supplementation in women with fatigue and ferritin levels in the low or moderately low (below 50 µg/L) range found that iron supplementation lead to a significant improvement in their fatigue. They concluded their study by stating “women with unexplained prolonged fatigue, iron deficiency should be considered when ferritin values are below 50 µg/L, even when hemoglobin values are above 12.0 g/dL (Vaucher et al 2012).”

Treatment of Iron Deficiency

It is important to first do a blood test to determine your ferritin levels before supplementation. Too much iron is toxic and can lead to serious health problems. If iron deficiency is discovered, it is imperative to investigate the underlying cause of the deficiency and treat it accordingly. As a naturopathic doctor this involves things such as nutritional counselling, treatment of chronic inflammatory bowel conditions and regulating menstrual cycles. There are many reasons for an iron deficiency and therefore it is essential that your treatment be individualized accordingly.

Iron Deficiency Anemia: Medline Plus. Retrieved from:`https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000584.htm

Iron Deficiency Anemia: American Society of Hematology: Retrieved from: http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Anemia/Iron-Deficiency.aspx

Bhaskaram P. Immunobiology of mild micronutrient deficiencies. Br J Nutr 2001;85:S75-80

Vaucher P, Druais PL, Waldvogel S, Favrat B. Effect of iron supplementation on fatigue in nonanemic menstruating women with low ferritin: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ. 2012 Jul 9. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22777991.