Iron deficiency is not uncommon; globally, up to nine percent of the world’s population contends with this problem in the form of anemia (inadequate hemoglobin in the blood). Of those, most are children and women. In fact, a World Health Organization survey determined that iron deficiency is a health issue to various degrees for all of the almost two hundred countries included in the study. For most countries, there is at least a moderate concern for the general population. The rate of anemia in the Americas is less than in other parts of the world, however, an estimated seventeen million people are seriously iron-deprived. (1)
On a global scale, iron deficiency accounts for fifty percent of all anemia. This contributes to premature mortality of children and women, in addition to cognitive impairment, decreased work productivity, and death from severe anemia. (2) Women are much more likely than men to have an iron deficiency due to regular monthly menstruation and consequent blood loss.
The most common and apparent symptom of iron deficiency is fatigue. This is because iron is a mineral component of hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that is responsible for the transportation of oxygen throughout the body.
Without an adequate supply of iron, cells are trying to work without enough oxygen—this can translate to physical and mental fatigue.
Anemia caused by iron deficiency is common in combination with thyroid dysfunction but they don’t always go hand-in-hand; you can experience one without the other.
For people experiencing thyroid dysfunction, iron deficiency can compound the problem: although the exact mechanism of the relationship is not definitive, thyroid dysfunction can contribute to anemia while iron plays a part in the production of thyroid hormones. It’s a circle of cause and effect:
“…iron is vital for the activity of thyroid peroxidase, an iron-containing enzyme that is crucial in the first steps of thyroid hormone synthesis. Experimental studies demonstrated that iron deficiency decreases thyroid peroxidase activity, and therefore may contribute to the depression of thyroid function…Therefore, there is a bilateral relationship between anemia and thyroid and metabolic status.” (3)
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
It makes sense then that iron deficiency and thyroid dysfunction can share symptoms:
- Pale skin
- Reduced immune system function (susceptible to illness)
- Reduced cognitive ability – difficulty concentrating, brain fog
- Headaches and migraine (4)
- Fatigue and exhaustion (often chronic) (5)
- Muscular cramps, spasms, aches, and reduced strength
- Shortness of breath
- Reduced physical stamina and aerobic capacity (6)
- Heart palpitations
- Hair loss
- Dry hair, skin, and nails
- Swollen tongue or sore mouth
- Restless leg syndrome (7)
- Cold appendages
You can easily see how all of the symptoms above can be caused by cells’ lack of oxygen.