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© 2017 Vancouver Dietitians

Blog & Recipes

  • by Alexandra Inman, Stephanie Dang

Feeling Fatigued? Don't Just Blame Iron!


Fatigue and low energy are common symptoms we see in many of our clients. More often than not, clients have self-diagnosed iron-deficiency or anemia, and are taking self-prescribed iron supplements. However, this may not be addressing the underlying cause of their fatigue, and in fact may actually be detrimental to health!

Iron supplements can cause unpleasant symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea/vomiting, constipation, leg cramps, heartburn, and stained teeth - to name a few. You may also be putting yourself at risk for potentially hazardous iron overload! Taking iron supplements without the supervision of a medical professional may mean that you are not achieving a therapeutic dose of elemental iron, and therefore not improving your iron levels at all. Not to mention, iron supplements are expensive!

Iron supplements should only be taken upon the advice of your healthcare practitioner and only after the relevant blood work has been completed. Iron supplements are not meant to be taken long-term, they are meant to treat iron-deficiencies and bring your iron levels back to normal. The focus needs to be on identifying the root cause of your iron-deficiency, and the best way to incorporate more iron into your diet. If you or your family have a history of iron-deficiency and/or anemia, please book an appointment with Alex or Stephanie today - we can help you improve your intake of iron and maintain your iron levels long term!

Here are some potential causes of fatigue to consider:

Poor sleep quantity and quality

Let’s start with the obvious, but often overlooked, cause of fatigue - poor sleep! Sleep is not only important for energy levels, it is your body’s time to repair and restore vital tissues and organs. Per the Canadian Sleep Society, “Insufficient sleep, even on a single night, has a number of immediate consequences including lower alertness, negative mood, reduced motor and visual acuity, longer response times, and impaired attention and memory. Chronic sleep restriction over days and weeks leads to cumulative deficits in alertness, mood and cognitive performance. As well, insufficient sleep can have long-term consequences for health including weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.” Everyone is different, and the amount of sleep you require may not be the same as your family or friends. Start with: prioritizing sleep, keeping a regular sleep schedule, and practicing good sleep hygiene - click here to read more from the Canadian Sleep Society.

Stress

Feeling stressed or anxious can be exhausting! It can have profound effects on your energy, sleep, mood, appetite, and other aspects related to your health. Sometimes, it’s hard to even recognize that we are stressed while trying to maintain our busy schedules. Click here to read more from the Canadian Mental Health Association about how to prevent, identify, and manage stress in your life.

Dehydration

Not drinking enough fluids in the day can negatively impact your body’s energy levels. There is no golden rule when it comes to how much fluid you should be drinking; the best way to self-evaluate your hydration is to check your urine! Aim for urine that is pale yellow-clear and that you are going often throughout the day. Click here to read our blog post all about staying hydrated!

Not eating enough

Your body needs food to fuel itself - from maintaining muscle mass, to producing hormones, to breathing - your body requires nutrients to do all of these vital functions! Some people may be trying to restrict their food intake, while other people may forget to eat; and it is not surprising that sub-optimal food intake has a big impact on your energy levels. Focus on eating a wide variety of foods throughout the day, and practice intuitive eating to make sure you are eating enough for optimal health and function. Click here to learn how to get started with intuitive eating!

Not eating often enough

Many complain about feeling the “3 pm slump” when they have difficulty with low energy, mood, and mental acuity. Your body may just need a snack! Depending on your activity levels, how much and what kind of food you’ve eaten that day, how much sleep you had the night before, your body may need 2-3 snacks a day to function optimally. Unsure how much or how often you should be eating? Click here to learn how to get started with intuitive eating!

Lack of physical activity

The relationship between exercise and energy can be likened to the chicken or the egg dilemma. Are you not exercising because you have no energy? Or do you have no energy because you’re not exercising? Many people find that incorporating more physical activity into their life improves their sleep, energy, mood, and even stress! If going to an intense workout class or the gym sounds too much right now, start with something small and build from there. Try taking your dog for a longer walk than normal, or taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator. Click here to learn more!

Underlying medical problem

If your fatigue is severe, or if you have tried some of our suggestions in this post with minimal to no effect, there may be an underlying medical reason for your fatigue. We strongly recommend discussing with your medical provider.

B-vitamins

Insufficient intake of B-vitamins, especially vitamin B12 and folate, can contribute to fatigue. A deficiency of vitamin B12 and/or folate can also lead to anemia. B-vitamins, such as thiamine and niacin, can be found in whole grains, legumes, dairy products, and meat/poultry. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, fortified milk alternatives, and Red Star nutritional yeast. Folate is found in leafy greens, beets, corn, legumes, flax, sunflower seeds, and is fortified into grain products in Canada.

Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should also be taking a daily multivitamin containing 400 mcg folic acid. Adults over 50 years of age should meet their vitamin B12 needs through fortified food products and/or supplements, please book an appointment with us today for more information on vitamin B12 supplements.

And, yes, iron!

Yes, a common symptom of iron deficiency is fatigue. However, if you are following a varied, balanced diet then you should be able to consume adequate iron. If you are consistently iron deficient or fatigued, work with your medical provider to investigate the root cause of your iron deficiency.

Animal products, such as meat, fish, poultry, and eggs are the best sources of iron as they contain “heme iron” which is the most readily absorbed type of iron. If you are trying to follow a plant-based diet, focus on incorporating tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds, and/or iron-fortified grain products. Pair these plant-based sources of iron with a source of vitamin C to improve their absorption, such as mixing tomatoes into your chilli or consuming some citrus fruit with your hummus. You can also try cooking in a cast iron pan or with the Lucky Iron Fish, to boost your iron intake. Women who are pregnant would benefit from taking a daily multivitamin containing iron, as their iron needs are higher.

The backbone of optimal health is a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet. Focus on eating a varied, balanced diet that includes foods from different food groups to ensure you are getting adequate carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Not sure what a balanced meal looks like? Click here to learn more!

If you are feeling fatigued, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are anemic and/or iron-deficient. Consider all possible causes of your fatigue and discuss with your medical provider. Your physician will be able to help assess, diagnose, and treat any potential medical reason for your fatigue. If the reason turns out to be nutritional, then book an appointment with us for a full assessment and evaluation of your nutrition status.

#irondeficiency #fatigue #healthylifestyle

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