Paleness, Exhaustion, Headaches: Your body may be missing a major mineral – Iron

The feeling is all too familiar, you’re only a few reps away from wrapping up a workout or struggling to push through the last leg of a daily run, and there’s nothing left in the tank. Hitting the wall during exercise can often leave someone feeling despondent and ready to blame a lack of determination or simply losing a step due to old age; however, other factors could be to blame. A potential cause for waning endurance and onset sluggishness could be iron deficiency. 


Iron is an essential mineral found in a variety of foods, like leafy veggies, beans, red meat and more, that is used by our bodies to produce hemoglobin and myoglobin. Similar to an Amazon delivery truck dropping off your latest purchase, hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, while myoglobin provides oxygen to muscles. As previously mentioned, someone deficient in iron might not be able to produce enough red blood cells to sustain energy levels during workouts or even mundane activities.

Fun Fact: The average human body has enough iron in it to forge a metal nail that is 3-inches long

Although iron is found in many popular foods, it isn’t always easy for our bodies to absorb it, especially from plant foods. As a result, approximately 30% of the global population has iron deficiency anemia, with women and children most affected. The condition also frequently affects individuals who give up eating meat and animal products such as milk, cheese, and eggs – an increasingly common practice with the rise in popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets. Further, individuals with certain chronic diseases, pregnant or new mothers and those regularly providing blood donations are at greater risk of having low iron. 


With this mineral being so crucial for our bodies to function correctly and iron deficiency on the rise in the U.S., why is it so rarely discussed? What are the signs your body isn’t getting enough iron? And what can be done to supplement our iron intake? Our Jacksonville health and wellness experts tackle these questions and more in this article, so keep reading! 


Signs of iron deficiency 

In addition to powering oxygen diffusion, iron helps our bodies build healthy connective tissue, synthesize certain hormones, aid neurotransmitter production and more. Individuals that are severely deficient in iron risk developing anemia, a blood disorder that develops when a person’s blood doesn’t have enough red blood cells. Symptoms of iron deficiency and/or anemia often vary from person to person but can include:


  • Fatigue 
  • Brittle Nails
  • Bright redness of the tongue 
  • Hair Loss 
  • Dizziness 
  • Feeling Weak
  • Constantly Tired
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Headaches
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Pale Complexion 
  • Frequent Nausea


If you have any of these other signs of iron deficiency, talk to your doctor so they can help determine if you are low in iron, anemic, or have another health issue.


An annual blood test administered by your primary care physician is the best way to keep tabs on whether you are getting enough iron through diet alone. These routine exams are the best way to identify a problem before severe symptoms develop. 

Foods packed with iron

According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, iron from food comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme is found only in animal flesh like meat, poultry, and seafood. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods like citrus fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens. Non-heme iron is also found in animal flesh (as animals consume plant foods with non-heme iron) and fortified foods.

Sources of heme iron:

  • Oysters, clams, mussels
  • Beef or chicken liver
  • Organ meats
  • Canned sardines
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Canned light tuna

Sources of non-heme iron: 

  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Beans
  • Dark chocolate (at least 45%)
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Potato with skin
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Tomatoes 
  • Enriched rice or bread

Fun Fact: In 2008, Canadian health workers in Cambodia developed the Lucky Iron Fish, a fish-shaped cast iron ingot used to provide dietary supplementation of iron to individuals affected by iron-deficiency anemia. 


The tool is made with FDA-certified, food-grade electrolytic iron powder and releases iron particles into boiling food dishes. The effect is similar to cooking with cast iron cookware. 

Supplement options 

Iron deficiency, including most forms of anemia, is easily treatable. For most individuals, simple diet changes and eating more iron-packed foods, like those listed above, can make a difference. 


Alternatively, iron supplements may provide more immediate results in helping your body regain a healthy amount of iron. There are many types of iron supplements available. Iron supplements may be taken as capsules, tablets, chewable tablets, and liquids – each with unique drawbacks and benefits. Our Jacksonville care team recommends that people work closely with a trusted healthcare provider to determine their correct dosage and when they should take them. Consuming more iron than your body needs can cause serious medical problems.

Untitled design (3)

Gator Bites – The University of Florida:

The University of Florida Health recommends the following tips to help maximize the absorption of iron supplements: 


  • Iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach. Yet, iron supplements can cause stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhea in some people. You may need to take iron with a small amount of food to avoid this problem.
    Milk, calcium and antacids should NOT be taken simultaneously as iron supplements.


  • Before taking your iron supplements, you should wait at least 2 hours after having these foods.


  • Foods that you should NOT eat at the same time as you take your iron include:
    • High-fiber foods, such as whole grains, raw vegetables, and bran
    • Foods or drinks with caffeine


  • Some doctors suggest taking a vitamin C supplement or drinking orange juice with your iron pill. This can help the iron absorb into your body. Drinking 8 ounces (240 milliliters) of fluid with an iron pill is also OK.


Extreme cases of iron deficiency can be fatal and are usually treated with blood transfusions.

Iron deficiency can make people susceptible to illness and infection if left unaddressed.


Your Jacksonville health and wellness destination 

We partner with our patients to help them reclaim their health and get back to doing what they love. Our health and wellness team is currently accepting new patients and is standing by to assist you with medically-proven therapeutic treatment programs to help you reach your wellness goals. Best of all, when walking through our doors, you can expect friendly, knowledgeable and compassionate care, plus dependable access to your doctor. Request an appointment today or call us at 904-724-5767. 


*Individuals should consult their primary care physician before making changes to their diet or before taking any new health supplement. Young children, adult men and elderly women likely do not require supplemental iron in their diets and should consult their physician before taking iron supplements, as they are at greater risk of excessive iron.


Enjoy This Article?

Sign Up For Our Free Monthly Newsletter