Five weird signs you’re iron-deficient
Though iron is one of the most important nutrients that is needed for many functions of the body, many of us don’t get enough of it.
“Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency worldwide,” said Dr Kelly Prichett, assistant professor of sports nutrition at Central Washington University.
The World Health Organisation estimates that nearly half of the world’s 1.62 billion cases of anaemia - where an individual is lacking healthy red blood cells - can be traced back to an iron deficiency.
When your body is low in iron, common signs include feeling tired, faint, or becoming breathless more easily. However, there are some more unusual signs that could indicate a dip in your iron levels, including these five.
1. Odd cravings for inedible items
While the reasons why are still unknown, people with severe iron deficiencies often crave non-food items including dirt, clay, paint chips, cardboard, and cleaning supplies, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
The condition, called pica, can be difficult to identify as many are ashamed to admit they have these unusual addictions.
Pica typically occurs in young children or during pregnancy, but case studies have shown that older people can experience pica too.
2. Brittle or spoon-shaped nails
Fingernails can be a surprisingly good indicator about your health, including when you’re experiencing iron problems.
Along with weak and brittle nails, spoon nails can be a sign of iron deficiency. Also called koilonychia, spoon nails occur when the inside of your nail sinks in, leaving your fingernail shaped like a spoon.
Since spoon nails can also be caused by exposure to petroleum-based solvents, trauma (such as a jammed finger), and other issues, doctors may need to perform a blood test for iron deficiency anaemia when there aren’t any other obvious causes.
3. Dry and cracked lips
While many of us are familiar with chapped lips caused by harsh cold, a dry room, or licking your lips, people with low iron levels may be prone to a more specific kind of cracking that affects the corners of the mouth, called angular cheilitis.
These cracks can make it difficult to eat, smile, or even shout.
In a study of 82 people with the condition, 32 percent were found to have an iron deficiency.
In those cases, creams or ointments won’t do the trick and the underlying iron deficiency must be addressed to stop the cracking from coming back.
4. An oddly swollen tongue
Atrophic glossitis, also known as a swollen and tender tongue, is another less-than-obvious symptom of an iron deficiency.
In a 2013 study of people with iron deficiency anaemia, nearly 27 percent of the 75 participants were found to have atrophic glossitis, as well as dry mouth, a burning sensation, and other oral health issues.
The swelling results in the tongue appearing smooth rather than bumpy, and can cause problems with chewing, swallowing, or talking.
5. A constant craving for ice
Craving ice is a specific type of pica called pagophagia, and is one of the most common symptoms of a severe iron deficiency.
While the reasons behind this craving are unclear, some experts hypothesise that chewing ice may increase alertness in iron-deficient people - who often feel sluggish and tired - or that it may soothe swollen tongues.
What to do about it
If you experience several of the above symptoms, booking an appointment with your doctor may be the best next step.
If you are feeling more tired than usual, struggle to catch your breath while walking up stairs or exercising, feel dizzy or often feel weak, you may need to check your iron levels with your doctor.
In the meantime, eating iron-rich foods such as red meat, poultry, eggs, fish, nuts, or dark leafy green vegetables can help you take in some more iron.