Iron Deficiency

What does this mean?

What is Iron?

Iron is a mineral that is an essential biological component of every living organism. That’s why we find sources of iron from food. 

It is needed for many essential functions in the body:

  • making enough Haemoglobin a protein needed to make Red Blood Cells
  • Storing oxygen in your muscles to allow you to move quickly
  • Converts sugar to energy
  • Creates enzymes that make new cells, building blocks of the body and hormones
  • Brain health and balancing good mood chemicals
  • Keeping the healthy immune system working and healthy.


Because your body is running low on Iron and can’t make enough Red Blood Cells (RBC) for your body, your body  

70% of your iron is found in the blood or muscles. 

This is called ANAEMIA  (AN = lack of, Emia = blood)

The most common cause of Anaemia is due to lack of Iron. 

The Red Blood cells in your blood, transfers oxygen from your lungs, takes it to your muscles and organs. 

Red blood cells are flexible small discs, are formed in bone marrow and live for about 120 days. They contain mainly haemoglobin, the protein that binds to oxygen. 

When you don’t have healthy numbers of RCB’s, you get symptoms of having low oxygen both from your blood supply, and the supply you normally store in your muscles.  This is made worse when you try to exercise; You may feel sick and out of breath. 

Oxygen is needed to make energy!  If you have a small supply your body will struggle to make energy.

General symptoms of having iron deficiency anaemia:

  • being extremely tired and weak
  • Poor concentration
  • being short of breath
  • your heart beating fast and irregularly, or both
  • being dizzy and light-headed
  • feeling anxious
  • headache
  • cold hands and feet
  • sore or inflamed tongue
  • brittle or spoon shaped nails
  • brittle and or thinning hair
  • having cravings for unusual things like ice, dirt or starch (called a Pica)

Not only that, because iron is so important the body is able to recycle it.  The main way the body loses Iron is through bleeding.

Iron deficiency can contribute to your body not making energy properly, in lots of different cells throughout the body – causing lots of unusual symptoms, including neurological one.

How much Iron do I need to eat every day?

Depending on your sex and age -See Iron page 171 (Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes)

When you don’t have enough, your body will absorb a much iron from your diet as it can.  It will stock pile about 1 – 3 grams of iron in your body and from there will only absorb just enough iron as needed from your food[i].  The body is so intelligent.

Below there are two lists of iron containing food:

  • Meat based,- easily absorbed in gut.  Fe2+
  • Plant based – not easily absorbed Fe3+

 Meat sources of iron - iron content Plant based sources of iron - iron content

Dark chocolate with 70% cocoa also contains 3.3mg iron in a small serve. (Yokoi, Konomi, & Otagi, 2009)

Meat based sources of iron are easier for your gut to absorb.  If you eat the plant based at the same at the meat based this increases absorption of iron. ("National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, New Zealand Ministry of Health", 2014)

And you could take a tablet containing iron which is called an “Iron Supplement”.

Let’s go through what types there are:

The main types of iron supplements used in Australia are listed below in order of highest dose first:

 Important notes when taking iron supplements:

Take supplement tablets as directed; usually on an empty stomach one hour prior to eating, with a drink containing vitamin C. 

Some foods, tea, coke, and milk interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron from the stomach so don’t eat these at the same time.

Side effects can occur, usually related to stomach issues.  Such as getting constipated, black or dark poos, diarrhoea, feeling sick, cramps.  If this occurs, usual advice is to reduce your dose, take one tablet 2-3 time per week instead of every day, then increasing to the correct prescription.  Taking the tablets at night, having more fluids and fibre or using a laxative also helps. (Government of South Australia, 2017)

Test results meaning for IRON


Test results for Red Blood Cells




[i] Abbaspour, N., Hurrell, R., & Kelishadi, R. (2014). Review on iron and its importance for human health. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 19(2), 164–174.

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