A Complete Guide to Iron: Deficiency, Your Genes & How To Fix Low Iron Levels

A Complete Guide to Iron: Deficiency, Your Genes & How To Fix Low Iron Levels


  1. Introduction
  2. Iron Role & Functions
  3. Genes
  4. Step By Step Guide
  5. Conclusion
  6. FAQ

In 30 seconds...Dive into the multifaceted world of iron, not just a building block for skyscrapers but also for your body's critical functions! From its vital role in transporting oxygen in your blood to boosting your cognitive abilities, iron is a must-have. Unveil the diverse sources, from meats to leafy greens, that can fill your iron quota and learn how to maximize absorption. But it's not all smooth sailing: understand the pitfalls of iron overload and deficiency, which can wreak havoc on your system. Master the balancing act with our guide to creating iron-rich meals that aren't just steak and spinach. Elevate your energy, sharpen your mind, and enhance your health by understanding this essential mineral.

Introduction to Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency is like that uninvited party guest who drains the energy out of the room. It happens when your body, like a car running low on petrol, doesn't have enough iron to produce haemoglobin, the stuff in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.

Feeling tired, looking pale, getting dizzy, or having cold hands and feet might be your body's not-so-subtle way of telling you, "Hey, we're running low on iron here!" And if you're asking, "What does low iron feel like?" Well, imagine trying to run a marathon while carrying a backpack full of rocks. Yeah, it's that draining.

Diagnosing iron deficiency isn't as simple as asking a Magic 8 Ball. Doctors usually look for a low haemoglobin or hematocrit level in your blood test results, along with other factors.

A Journey to the Core of Your Cells

Iron, that heavy-duty metal you associate with towering skyscrapers and grandma's favourite cast-iron skillet, is surprisingly a VIP in your body. So why is iron important?

1. Oxygen Transport: The Hemoglobin Hero

Iron is a major component of hemoglobin, the protein in our red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body. Without sufficient iron, our body can't produce enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells, leading to a condition known as iron deficiency anemia. Imagine your body as a bustling city, and oxygen as its lifeblood - you need a robust transport system (iron-rich hemoglobin) to keep everything running smoothly!

2. Energy Production: The Metabolic Maestro

Iron plays a key role in converting food into energy - the process known as metabolism. It's a vital part of the enzymes involved in energy production and the synthesis of DNA. So, when you're feeling like you've hit a wall and even a double espresso won't cut it, it could be your iron levels letting you down.

3. Muscle Function: The Myoglobin Magician

Iron is also an essential part of myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to our muscles, helping them function effectively and recover after exercise. Just like a well-oiled machine, our muscles need oxygen (supplied by iron-rich myoglobin) to keep us moving, whether it's during a high-intensity workout or a leisurely afternoon stroll.

4. Immune System Support: The Defender of Health

Iron is crucial for a healthy immune system. It plays a role in the growth and differentiation of immune cells, helping our body to effectively fight off infections and diseases. In other words, iron is like the personal trainer for our immune cells, helping them get into fighting shape!

5. Brain Development and Function: The Cognitive Conductor

Iron is vital for the development and functioning of our brain. It supports the production of neurotransmitters, the body's chemical messengers, and promotes the growth and differentiation of brain cells. It's like the maestro conducting the symphony of our brain's complex functions!

Without it, you might find yourself more worn out than a five-year-old phone battery by mid-afternoon. Welcome to the world of iron deficiency, the unwanted subscription you didn't sign up for.

Is Your DNA Hoarding the Iron?

We all know genetics is a tricky game. You could end up with your dad's distinctive nose or your mum's curly hair. But what if your genes are also hoarding the iron, causing deficiency?

Our genes, those tiny DNA-encoded instructions within our cells, play a significant role in iron metabolism. They're like backstage crew in a play, controlling the show without ever being seen. Certain genes, like HFE, TFR1, TMPRSS6, SLC40A1, and HAMP, are particularly crucial in this iron balancing act.

The Genes

HFE Gene

HFE is like the supervisor at an iron mine, helping to regulate how much iron your body absorbs from your diet. When HFE is functioning correctly, it keeps iron absorption at just the right level. But when it mutates, it can cause your body to hoard iron, leading to conditions like hereditary hemochromatosis.

TFR1 Gene

TFR1, or transferrin receptor 1, is the doorman of the cellular world, allowing transferrin (the protein that transports iron) to enter cells. Mutations in this gene can cause iron to build up in the body, but they can also lead to iron deficiency.


TMPRSS6 is responsible for producing a protein that regulates hepcidin, a hormone that controls iron levels in the body. When TMPRSS6 doesn't play its part, it can upset the iron balance and contribute to iron deficiency.

SLC40A1 Gene

SLC40A1 codes for ferroportin, the only known protein that exports iron from cells to the blood plasma. If SLC40A1 mutates, it can disrupt iron transport, leading to an iron surplus or shortage.


HAMP is the gene that produces the hormone hepcidin, which is the body's iron traffic cop. When HAMP mutations occur, they can cause havoc with iron levels, leading to overload or deficiency.

Genetic mutations in these genes can lead to conditions like hereditary hemochromatosis, causing iron to build up in the body. Paradoxically, they can also contribute to iron deficiency. Iron-ic, isn't it? It's a complex, dynamic dance, and we're here to help you navigate it. We provide a DNA Health Test and a DNA + Epigenetic Health Test to help uncover these hidden genetic narratives to tackle whatever Iron problem you are facing.

The Iron Rich Diet

When you think about iron-rich foods, what comes to mind? Spinach, thanks to Popeye's endorsement? Maybe some red meat or iron-fortified cereals? But don't forget the humble egg, the mighty beetroot, and yes, even the unassuming banana! They're all on the iron-rich foods list.

And while you're at it, raise a glass to the iron-rich drinks out there. We're talking about prune juice, tomato juice, and yes, even a pint of Guinness can help boost those iron levels.

Ironing Out the Deficiency

Treating iron deficiency is a bit like running a marathon; it requires dedication, patience, and the right strategy. Your doctor might recommend iron supplements, a bit like a turbo boost for your body's iron levels. But remember, it's not a race. Improving iron deficiency can take some time, so patience is key.

Incorporate some lifestyle changes too. Regular exercise can help boost your iron levels, and getting enough sleep is crucial. You wouldn't expect your phone to work properly on low battery, would you? So, don't expect your body to either. Also, consider cutting down on alcohol and smoking, because, let's face it, they aren't doing your iron levels any favours.

And while we're on the topic of things that aren't helping your iron levels, let's talk about stress. It's like that annoying pop-up ad that won't go away, sapping your energy and, you guessed it, potentially contributing to iron deficiency.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Pumping Your Iron

Consult Your Doctor:

Before you rush off to make any drastic changes, it's essential to see your doctor. Self-diagnosing based on a 2 AM deep dive into obscure online forums is about as reliable as predicting the weather with a magic 8-ball. Your doctor can provide a more accurate diagnosis and guide you on the most effective course of action to manage genetic iron deficiency.

Dish Up an Iron-Rich Diet:

Eating your way to better iron levels can be an appetising proposition. Embracing an iron-rich diet can be a delectable journey rather than a drudging chore. It's a culinary adventure where you’re not just satisfying your taste buds, but also fuelling your body with a crucial nutrient. Iron, meet palate!

Here's a culinary roadmap to help navigate your iron journey:

1. Meat and Seafood: Go beyond the chicken breast. Explore a range of meats like beef, especially organ meats like liver which are iron powerhouses. Seafood lovers can rejoice, as shellfish, including oysters, clams, and mussels, pack a hefty iron punch.

2. Leafy Greens: Spinach might have been Popeye's secret weapon, but there's an entire league of iron-rich greens out there. Branch out into kale, collard greens, swiss chard, or beet greens. They're not just rich in iron but also packed with a host of other nutrients.

3. Legumes and Beans: These aren't just for vegetarians and vegans. Foods like lentils, chickpeas, and a variety of beans are excellent sources of iron. Whip up a hearty bean chili or a warming lentil soup for a cozy iron boost.

4. Iron-fortified Foods: Many everyday foods like cereals, bread, and pasta are often fortified with iron. They're a simple way to boost your iron intake, especially for those picky eaters out there.

5. Seeds and Nuts: Snack your way to better iron levels. Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, and almonds are not only rich in iron but also make for a tasty snack.

6. Dark Chocolate: Yes, you read it right! Dark chocolate is a surprising source of iron. So go ahead and indulge that sweet tooth occasionally (in moderation, of course).

Remember, diversity in your diet is key. It's not just about keeping your taste buds entertained but also ensuring a balance of nutrients. So go ahead, put on your chef's hat and start exploring the iron-rich corners of your kitchen!

Embrace Iron Supplements

Supplements can be a great way to give your iron levels a boost, think of them as your iron's personal motivational speaker. But always consult your doctor before starting a supplement regimen to ensure it's right for you.

Break a Sweat: The Iron-Boosting Power of Physical Activity

Regular exercise is your secret weapon in the fight against iron deficiency. And no, we're not just talking about heavy weight lifting (though if that's your jam, more power to you!). Whether you're a zen yogi, a spirited marathon runner, a powerhouse cyclist, or someone who loves to boogie down to 80s aerobics videos, moving your body regularly is a surefire way to help boost your iron levels and promote overall health.

So how exactly does breaking a sweat boost your iron levels? Let's dive in:

1. Enhanced Absorption: Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, increases your body's need for oxygen. This prompts the body to increase its iron absorption to produce more red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout your body. It's your body's clever way of saying, "Hey, we need more fuel for this awesome workout!"

2. Healthy Weight Management: Regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, which has been linked to improved iron status. Excess weight can lead to inflammation, which can interfere with iron absorption. So lacing up those trainers can benefit your iron levels in more ways than one!

3. Gut Health: A regular exercise routine can help maintain a healthy digestive system. A happy gut is more efficient at absorbing nutrients, including iron, from the food you eat.

4. Stress Reduction: Exercise is a proven stress-buster. And since chronic stress can negatively impact your iron levels, moving your body is a great way to keep stress at bay and support your iron health.

So, whether you're into high-intensity workouts or prefer a tranquil yoga flow, remember that staying active is an essential part of keeping your iron levels up to speed. Now, go on and break a sweat - your iron levels are cheering you on!

Catch Some Z's: The Iron-Boosting Power of Quality Sleep

Sleep isn't just a welcome break from our busy lives or an excuse to cozy up under the covers. It's a vital, active period when our bodies are hard at work repairing, rejuvenating, and re-energizing for the day ahead. Consistent, quality sleep plays a crucial role in managing our iron levels, so let's turn off Netflix before 2 AM (yes, even if it's the season finale), and let's dive into the iron-rich benefits of a good night's sleep.

1. Restoration and Rejuvenation: During sleep, our bodies shift into overdrive repairing cells and tissues, consolidating memories, and flushing out toxins. This restorative process requires a steady supply of energy, and you guessed it, iron plays a key role in energy production.

2. Hormonal Harmony: Sleep helps regulate various hormones in our body, including those related to stress and appetite. Disruption in these hormones can impact your body's ability to absorb and utilize iron. So, catching your Z's helps keep your hormonal orchestra in harmony, supporting your iron health.

3. Immune System Support: A good night's sleep supports our immune system, which in turn plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy iron status. Research has shown that lack of sleep can lead to inflammation that may hinder iron absorption.

4. Healthy Eating Habits: Ever notice how after a sleep-deprived night, you tend to crave junk food? Sleep deprivation can cause an increase in cravings for high sugar and high-fat foods, which are typically low in iron. So getting enough sleep not only helps you feel more refreshed but also supports healthier food choices, which can contribute to better iron intake.

Cut the Bad Habits:

As tempting as it might be to unwind with a cigarette or a glass of wine, both smoking and excessive alcohol can interfere with iron absorption. It might be time to call it quits and start embracing healthier coping mechanisms.

Drink Up: The Hydration Factor in Your Iron Story

Alright, let's clear this up right away: guzzling gallons of water won't magically pump up your iron levels. But before you toss your water bottle aside, consider this: staying adequately hydrated is essential for the overall health and proper functioning of your body systems, including those that help manage your iron levels. So let's uncork the hydration story in the context of iron health.

1. Nutrient Transport: Water is the main vehicle for transporting nutrients, including iron, throughout our body. When you're adequately hydrated, nutrients can smoothly hitch a ride to where they're needed, contributing to better iron absorption and utilization.

2. Digestive Health: Hydration plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy digestive system. A well-hydrated body ensures smooth digestion and prevents constipation, thereby facilitating better nutrient absorption, including iron.

3. Optimal Blood Volume: About half of your blood volume is made up of water. Adequate hydration helps maintain optimal blood volume, which in turn supports proper circulation and delivery of iron to various tissues and organs.

4. Energy Levels: Chronic dehydration can lead to fatigue, a common symptom of iron deficiency. Staying hydrated can help maintain your energy levels, making it easier to cope with the tiredness associated with iron deficiency.

5. Hydration and Exercise: Regular exercise, as we've discussed, is beneficial for iron health. But a good workout isn't possible without proper hydration. Drinking enough water can help you maintain your exercise routine, indirectly supporting your iron levels.

So, while water may not be an "iron powerhouse," it's undoubtedly an essential player in your body's iron regulation team. Whether it's a chilled glass of water, a warm herbal tea, or a refreshing fruit-infused concoction, make sure you're drinking up to keep your body - and your iron - in tip-top shape. Keep that water bottle handy, and remember, when in doubt, hydrate!

Ironing Out the Future

The future of iron deficiency research is as exciting as a blockbuster movie. With advancements in genetics, like our DNA + Epigenetic Health Test, we're beginning to understand more about the complex relationship between our genes and iron deficiency.

So, is iron deficiency in your genes? Only one way to find out! Whether it's improving diagnostics or creating personalised treatment plans, the future is full of possibilities. And while we wait for science to iron out the details, remember to keep your iron levels in check. Because you're not just a statistic in a research paper; you're a unique individual with your own genetic story.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does low iron cause weight gain?

While iron deficiency itself isn't directly linked to weight gain, it can lead to fatigue, which may reduce physical activity, potentially leading to weight gain.

Can low iron go away?

Yes, with the right diet and supplements, low iron levels can be corrected. However, it's important to understand the root cause, whether it's diet, absorption issues, or genetic factors.

Which fruit has the most iron?

Dried fruits such as apricots and raisins are high in iron. Among fresh fruits, strawberries and apples are relatively good sources.

Is low iron deficiency serious?

Yes, if left untreated, iron deficiency can lead to iron deficiency anemia, a condition that can cause fatigue, weakness, and other complications.

Does drinking water help with anemia?

Drinking water itself doesn't cure anemia, but hydration is crucial for overall health, and it aids in the optimal functioning of all bodily systems, including blood production.

Can you survive with low iron?

While you can survive with low iron levels, it can lead to a decreased quality of life due to fatigue, weakness, and other symptoms. Severe, prolonged iron deficiency can lead to complications.

Can your eyes tell if you have low iron?

Iron deficiency anemia can cause pale eyelids and other changes in skin color, but these signs aren't definitive. A blood test is the best way to diagnose iron deficiency.

Is milk rich in iron?

Contrarily, milk is not a good source of iron. In fact, it can inhibit iron absorption. Iron-rich alternatives include leafy greens, meat, and fortified cereals.

What should you not drink if you are anemic?

People with iron deficiency anemia should avoid consuming large amounts of foods or beverages that inhibit iron absorption like coffee, tea, and milk, especially around meal times.

How can I increase my iron levels overnight?

While you can't literally increase iron levels overnight, consuming iron-rich foods, taking prescribed supplements, and improving iron absorption by consuming vitamin C can help over time.

What blocks the absorption of iron?

Certain foods like coffee, tea, milk, and foods high in calcium or phytates (found in whole grains and legumes) can inhibit iron absorption.

Does low iron make it harder to sleep?

Iron deficiency can cause restless leg syndrome, a condition that can make it hard to sleep.

How long does it take to raise iron levels?

It usually takes several weeks to months of iron supplementation to correct iron deficiency, but this varies depending on the severity of the deficiency and individual factors. Always consult a healthcare professional for advice tailored to your situation.