Iron – The secret to solving brain fog, fatigue + hair loss

Women are really good at putting up with stuff. We are socialised to help others and put our family and friends first. So we often don’t notice or question the small signs that our body may need some TLC.

Most of my clients complain of at least one of the 3 most common signs of iron deficiency: brain fog, fatigue and hair loss.

It was believed that 1 in 5 women experience iron deficiency during their reproductive life, but in fact a 2023 study suggests that the figure is way higher, with up to 40% of young girls and women being iron deficient. Wow! As well as brain fog, fatigue and hair loss other symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • heavy periods or very light periods
  • headache at the end or just after your period finishes
  • weakness and dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • anxiety and depression
  • poor concentration
  • low immunity
  • brittle nails and easily bruised
  • pale skin
  • strange cravings (like ice, clay and other non-food items)
  • beeturia – when your urine turns red after eating beets (estimated 45-80% of beeturia have iron deficiency anemia)

Wow, quite a list, hey?

These are silent symptoms that can creep in over time. We hardly pay them attention and often think they are simply part of getting old. Stop ignoring those signs, friends! Also, remember these symptoms can appear in kids too, especially the poor concentration and bruising.

I don’t think I need to share why iron is important for us (haemoglobin, oxygen levels and brain development, anyone?), but studies show it’s also key for fertility and regular ovulation.

Issues which contribute to iron deficiency

Here are some reasons your iron levels may be lower than they should be:

  • Heavy menses
  • Pregnancy
  • Digestive issues – heartburn, low stomach acid, ulcers, SIBO, parasites
  • Diet low in iron, in particular a vegetarian or vegan diet
  • Consuming drinks containing tannin (like tea, coffee, wine) with meals can reduce the amount of iron you absorb – best to enjoy these 30-mins before or 1-hour after a meal

Who should check their iron levels + how? 

If you have some of the symptoms I listed above plus heavy periods or have been pregnant or are trying to conceive, it’s definitely worth getting your iron levels checked. (Word of caution: iron is not usually part of a women’s routine bloodwork so make sure to ask to specifically include it).

It is super simple to test your iron as long as you know which blood test to ask for! Serum iron test is not enough as this can change depending on the amount of iron in your last meal. So here are the 2 tests you should ask for and the optimum ranges:

Iron saturation 17-45%

Ferritin at least above 70 ng/mL

Boosting your iron levels 

During my IG Live  with Dr Dheeraj from the Iron Suites shared that plant based iron is poorly absorbed, compared to animal sources. I really appreciate that vegetarians and vegans won’t like this. But don’t shoot the messenger as I’m equally peeved about it! A plant based diet is a much more ethical and better environmental choice. Sadly though, most people need some animal products to be fully healthy.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • Red meat, especially organ meats
  • Green leafy veggies
  • Sea vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Apricot and dates

Cooking with iron cookware and taking iron supplements with Vitamin C increases absorption.

If your iron levels are very low, though, it is almost impossible to boost it through your diet alone. So you need to consider supplements or if you live in Singapore, an intravenous iron infusion with the Iron Suites.

People are rightly cautious about taking iron supplements as they can be hard on your digestion. Dr Dheeraj recommends Maltofer iron tablets which are available in Australia and Asia. This is because it contains ferric iron (Fe3+) which is only absorbed if the body needs it rather than ferrous iron (Fe2+) which can cause the digestive issues.

SpaTone and Floradix are popular iron supplements here in the UK but they are unlikely to have enough kick to boost your iron levels if they are very low. A better option is Thorne’s Ferrasorb. I would highly recommend you work with a nutritionist (like the brilliant Karin Reiter) to get the right iron supplement for you.

Word of caution before supplementing: if you suspect iron deficiency, do get it tested as the symptoms of low iron is very similar to excess iron. (I know!) You definitely don’t want to be supplementing if you have high iron levels as this has its own complications, like diabetes.

What else can help my brain fog, fatigue and hair loss?

This trio of symptoms are soooo common amongst women. As well as addressing your iron levels, supporting your gut health and having daily habits to manage your stress levels can really help.

I cover this AND WAAAAAY MORE on my 6-week live course Embrace Your Cyclical Power so that you can take control of your health and have better moods, period and energy. How great would that feel?

“PMS kind of switched me into a Mr Hyde every month and I was very upset about it - I felt I was fighting a losing battle of self-control. Now I have learned to be kinder to myself and I can handle PMS and perimenopause much better”.

Christel Ong, Massage Therapist, Singapore