What is Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency is the most common type of anaemia in which the red blood cells in your blood reduces. It is caused by decreased levels of iron in your blood. Iron is needed to form haemoglobin which carries the oxygen to different parts of the body.  The most common symptoms of iron deficiency are fatigue, shortness of breath, hair loss etc. If not treated may lead to stunted growth in children, mental health issues etc. Iron deficiency is generally caused by the intake of an iron-deficient diet. It is treated by taking iron supplements. You could also replenish the iron by consuming food rich in iron, such as leafy greens like spinach, red meat, dry fruits and nuts. To know more about iron deficiency, check out the full article here.

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date-icon 31 Aug 2021 |
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Iron deficiency is a condition in which the body lacks sufficient iron to produce hemoglobin. Iron is a vital mineral required for the proper functioning of the human body. It is especially needed for the production of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells are responsible for supplying oxygen along with other nutrients to the entire body. Therefore iron deficiency can cause serious health issues if left untreated.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), iron deficiency anemia affects 24.8% of the global population or 1 in every 4 humans. Its prevalence is particularly acute among pregnant women and children. The WHO estimates that iron-deficiency anemia affects 41.8% of all pregnant women and 47.4% of all pre-school age children worldwide. Iron deficiency is a particularly severe health issue in India where 50% of all women are anemic.

How Much Iron Do You Need?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of iron varies for men and women, with significant additional variations for pregnant women and women of childbearing age who need significantly more iron. In general the RDAs for various age groups among each gender is as follows:

  • For Adult Men - RDA of Iron for adult men is 8 mg/day.

  • For Adult Women -RDA of Iron for women between 19-50 years of age is 18 mg/day.

  • For Pregnant Women - Pregnant and lactating women need at least 27mg/day.

  • For Women Over 50 - RDA for women over 50 years of age is 8.7 mg/day.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

The most common iron-deficiency symptoms are:

  • Fatigue

Fatigue and dizziness are common symptoms of iron deficiency as a lack of hemoglobin in the body reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells.

  • Hair Loss

Prolonged iron deficiency can also lead to hair loss, pallor, and weakness as essential nutrients are not carried by blood to different parts of the body.

  • Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is another common symptom of iron deficiency due to the decreased oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.

  • Tongue Inflammation

Tongue inflammation along with a cold sensation in the hands and feet is another symptom of iron deficiency.

Health Risks of Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency is a serious problem with grave health risks associated with it such as:

  • Stunted Growth

Iron deficiency can lead to stunted growth and mental retardation among children. It can also lead to children being born underweight.

  • Increased Risk of Maternal Deaths

Iron deficiency puts the health of pregnant women at significant risk. According to the WHO, deficiency of iron leads to an estimated 5,91,000 perinatal and 1,15,000 maternal deaths worldwide.

  • Mental Health Issues

Among adult men, iron deficiency can lead to a drop in work productivity, fatigue, depression, and related mental health problems.

Causes of Iron deficiency

The most important cause of iron deficiency is poor dietary intake. Iron is found most abundantly in green leafy vegetables which may not be easily available in many geographies. It is also found in good quantities in meat products, putting vegetarians at risk of being iron deficient. Excessive menstrual bleeding puts many women at risk of being iron deficient. Many athletes may be at high risk of having iron deficiency too.

Tests for Iron deficiency

Iron deficiency is tested with the help of a blood test called the Complete Blood Count (CBC) test in which the level of hemoglobin in the red blood cells is tested. The normal range of hemoglobin for men is 13.5-17.5 gms/dl and for women is 12-15.5 gms/dl. A level of hemoglobin below this level may indicate iron deficiency. Additional tests such as colonoscopy, endoscopy, or ultrasound may be recommended by the doctor in case of underlying conditions such as cancer or excessive menstrual bleeding that may be causing the iron deficiency.

Treatment for Iron deficiency

Treatment for iron deficiency begins with identifying the underlying cause. For instance, in many cases, iron deficiency may be caused due to excessive bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract due to diseases like cancer. In women, iron deficiency due to excessive menstrual bleeding may be on account of reproductive tract issues. Supplemental iron is most commonly prescribed to restore iron levels in the body. Additionally, cooking in an iron skillet also helps to enrich the food with small quantities of iron and may help in treating mild forms of iron deficiency.

Common Food Sources of Iron

Foods rich in iron include green leafy vegetables, meat, liver, nuts, lentils, beans, etc. However, different foods are absorbed and broken down by the body through different processes, leading to variance in the bioavailability of iron. As a general rule, iron from meat, also called heme-iron is more readily absorbed by the body than iron from vegetarian sources, called non-heme iron. This is why vegetarians tend to be at a higher risk of having iron deficiency anemia. Nuts and seeds such as cashews, almonds, sesame seeds, papaya seeds, etc are also rich in iron.


Serving Size

Iron Content (% DV)


3 ounces


White Beans

1 cup


Chocolate, dark

3 ounces


Beef liver

3 ounces



½ cup



½ cup



3 ounces


How to Prevent Iron deficiency

Iron deficiency can be prevented by paying attention to our diet and eating iron-rich foods. If you have an underlying condition that may be causing excessive bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract or during menstruation, it is best to get it examined by a physician. It is advisable to get a blood hemoglobin test done in case you feel any of the symptoms associated with iron deficiency anemia such as fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, irritation, etc.


Iron deficiency is a serious condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Women and children are especially at an increased risk of suffering from iron deficiency anemia. The deficiency of iron leads to a reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. It is advisable that you eat a balanced diet containing foods rich in iron and ensure that your iron intake meets the daily RDA levels. You should see a doctor in case you experience any of the symptoms associated with iron deficiency anemia. Further, it is prudent that you should have yourself and your family covered with a good health insurance plan such as the one available on Finserv MARKETS in order to manage any unexpected medical expenses.

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