Tired, Grumpy and Dizzy? Check Your Iron Levels

by | Apr 10, 2024 | Uncategorized

Do you find yourself tired, grumpy and dizzy often? These can be signs your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. Which, as strange as it may sound, could be a result of low iron.

It’s easy to think of oxygen levels as being all about the lungs. If your lungs are working properly, then you’ll have great O2 (oxygen) levels, right? However, lungs are only the first part of the process by which your body gains access to oxygen. Here’s where iron comes in.

Iron is Vital

Iron is a key part of how red blood cells carry oxygen around in your blood. When your body doesn’t have enough iron, it ends up making fewer red blood cells, or sometimes it’ll make red blood cells that are too small.

If your lungs are how oxygen enters the body, your red blood cells are how your body moves oxygen to where it needs to be: your organs, brain, muscles and everywhere else. If your red blood cells aren’t doing a good job, or if there are just too few of them, you can experience the same effects as if your lungs aren’t functioning properly: your body begins to suffer from the effects of too little oxygen.

If you lose enough iron, you can even end up with a form of anemia called iron-deficiency anemia.

Causes of Iron Deficiency

So, how does this happen? What can cause us to have an iron deficiency?

There are basically four main ways you can become iron deficient.

  1. Loss of blood
  2. Inadequate diet
  3. Improper absorption
  4. Your body needs more iron than normal

Loss of blood

Frequent or heavy bleeding can cause your body to lose more blood cells (and iron) than it’s able to replace. There are a few relatively uncommon ways this can happen: bleeding due to ulcers, cancers, esophageal varices (like from cirrhosis). This can also happen if you take “blood-thinning” medications for a long time like aspirin, ibuprofen, or others that cause gastrointestinal bleeding. Heavy or frequent menstrual periods can also result in anemic losses of blood and iron.

Inadequate diet

You can also end up with iron deficiencies if you have too strict a diet. This is far less common in developed regions of the world, but it can sometimes happen with strict vegetarians or folks who simply just don’t eat enough food.

Improper absorption

Sometimes your body can’t properly absorb iron. This can happen due to a disease or disorder. Common ones include celiac’s disease and Crohn’s disease. Some surgeries, like gastric bypass, can lead to anemia. You can also develop anemia if you take too many antacids that contain calcium or have low stomach acid production.

Your body needs extra iron

There are a few situations where your body may just need extra iron. The most common reasons are breast feeding or pregnancy.


In many cases, the symptoms of mild iron deficiency will grow slowly enough that you may not even realize you’re anemic. You may find yourself feeling tired, grumpy, dizzy, and/or especially pale, and not realize there is an underlying cause.

It’s even possible to have no symptoms at all if the deficiency is mild enough.

Most of the time, symptoms will start mildly but then continue to grow. Some symptoms to look out for can include:

  • Often feeling especially weak or tired, especially after exercise
  • Dizziness and/or headaches
  • Palpitations (feeling your heartbeat quickly or hard in your chest)
  • Fogginess that feels like difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Feeling lightheaded when standing

As the anemia gets worse, symptoms can grow to include more obvious issues:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin color
  • Brittle nails
  • Blue tint to your sclera (whites of the eye)
  • Sore tongue and/or mouth sores
  • Hair loss

To find out if you’ve got iron-deficiency anemia, consider seeing your provider.

We’ll start with a Complete Blood Count or CBC test to get a look at your iron stores. If we see low levels, or changes in your red blood cells, we can dive in with more specific iron testing.

Addressing an Iron Deficiency at Home


First, consider whether you may have any sources of long-term or uncontrolled bleeding like the possible causes listed above, especially if you were born with testes.  Next, it’s important that your diet includes enough sources of iron. Typical meat sources include:

  • Red meat
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Shellfish are high in iron, but clams, oysters, and mussels are particularly good sources.
  • Organ meats. Popular types include liver, kidneys, brain, and heart, all of which are high in iron.

Alternative vegetarian sources can include:

  • Iron-fortified flour, bread, and some cereals.
  • Spinach. Although this is non-heme iron, which is not absorbed very well, spinach is also rich in vitamin C. This is important since vitamin C significantly boosts iron absorption.
  • Legumes. Some of the most common types of legumes are beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, and soybeans.
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Broccoli
  • Tofu
  • Dark chocolate


Oral supplements

It’s also possible to take iron supplements to build up iron stores. Oral Iron comes in a wide variety of forms and the main side effect reported with use is digestive upset, namely constipation. Vitamin C can help to offset this effect as it is a natural laxative and vitamin c additionally helps iron to absorb. The bisglycenate form is known for being the gentlest and least likely to have this effect, though some find that a plant-based iron is the only thing they can tolerate orally. Most find that if they split their dose up and take it throughout the day, the side effects are much more tolerable.

Iron Infusions

Iron infusions bypass your digestive tract and can be helpful in those who have absorption issues or who get an upset stomach with oral supplements. Most find benefit in mood, energy, brain fog and general sense of wellbeing when they receive a needed iron infusion.

Seeing a Healthcare Provider

Treating at home is wonderful, however too much iron can also harm your body. Before you start taking matters into your own hands, you’ll want to confirm via a diagnosis from your healthcare provider. If you believe that you may have an iron deficiency, it’ll be vital for them to discover and address the underlying cause.

If you’re interested in speaking to a provider at Northwest Integrative Medicine about your iron levels, or any other health concern:

Become a new patient today using our New Patient Fast Track


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