May 29, 2023

Iron Deficiency (symptoms and an update)

I've written only a little about this because I never knew, until August, that I had an iron deficiency--for years. Because I've had symptoms of low iron (the most prevalent being ice chewing--I'm talking the equivalent of a gallon of water in ice EVERY DAY--my doctors would check iron levels, see that they were only borderline and tell me to consider taking a multivitamin with iron. (I could have sworn my symptoms were very noticeable at least a decade ago, but going through photos for this post, it looks like it wasn't until around 2016 that they got significantly worse.)

This lists a lot of the common (and less common) symptoms of low ferritin. (source)

My symptoms: There are a lot of symptoms that overlap with numerous other issues that could be causing the problem, so they aren't necessarily related to iron--things like fatigue, brain fog, and sleep problems. My "unusual" symptoms that made me stop and think a bit:  swallowing problems/lump in throat; shortness of breath; feeling cold (not just hands and feet); swooshing and pounding sounds in my ears--I can hear my heart beating and blood circulating a lot of the time and I always thought that was normal; restless legs--especially at night; brittle nails; sore tongue; (possible hair loss? I may have only imagined it after I realized how old I am getting, haha).

On top of those, I have the more common symptoms as well. I think the only thing on the list that I don't really relate to is the chest pain. Several of those are also symptoms of anxiety, so if the anxiety goes away, maybe those will clear up, too. But I can't ever picture my anxiety going away ;)

I've never been able to tolerate iron pills--even half of a multivitamin makes me SUPER nauseous for half a day. Since my iron was "borderline" through the years, I wasn't too concerned about it. I wasn't anemic--the blood tests showed that.

I wrapped myself up every evening like this inside of a sleeping bag because I was SO COLD all the time. A big symptom of iron deficiency.

However, I am severely lacking iron. I specifically asked for a ferritin test the last time I went to the doctor (August 2022) because my iron-deficiency symptoms were really bad. Ferritin is a good indicator of long-term iron levels rather than the shorter-term ones that the iron tests check, and is a better indicator for diagnosing iron deficiency. Nobody ever tested my ferritin until I asked!

Ideally, the ferritin number would be over 100. Mine? It was 9. NINE.

Over the next several months, I tried a lot of different iron supplements, trying to find one that didn't hurt my stomach (and was vegan). My sister suggested I join an iron-deficiency Facebook group (she has low ferritin as well) and someone in the group mentioned that she was having a really hard time finding a supplement that worked AND was gentle on her stomach. She said she finally found one called FERAPRO and she posted her updated iron bloodwork, showing normal levels--I was so interested because it just happened to be vegan as well. (The FAQ's from the FERAPRO site are helpful with a basic understanding of iron/ferritin and supplementing.)

(This is not a sponsored post, by the way. I'm not at all affiliated with the supplement or pharmacy.)

Unfortunately, it is only available in Canada--I had to order it from the website and it took a while to ship, but it eventually got here (and the price isn't bad at all--$65 for 100 days' worth. I think shipping was about $20, considering it's from Canada. I'm not sure if Canadian drug laws are similar to the U.S., but according to the pharmacy site this supplement is considered a schedule II drug and has to be obtained from a pharmacist, although you don't need a prescription. (You can get a telehealth consult with the pharmacist that you order from--here is the site that I ordered from.)

I am not at all affiliated with the company and I don't get anything for sharing this, but I am so excited because it seems to actually be working. My symptoms are continuing to get better. I've been religious about taking it the supplement--I take it every evening at dinnertime (I'm afraid to try it on an empty stomach). Because I have fortified cereal and soy milk every morning, I don't like to take the iron until later in the day. 

I haven't had another blood test (I think I'll ask for one when I finish this first bottle of iron). But I will be shocked if this is simply a placebo effect. The first change I noticed was that I stopped craving ice. Almost immediately! Over a period of a few days, I went from eating ice all day long to not craving it AT ALL. In 2017-ish, I remember Jerry would go out of his way after work to get 10-pound bags of ice from Sonic--almost daily. Then he and the kids gave me an ice maker for my birthday. Best gift ever, haha. 

The next thing I noticed is that I'm not freezing cold all the time. In the fall at cross country practice, I remember Renee gaping at me because I wearing long-sleeve thermal underclothes and jeans and a hoodie on top of it. And I was *still* cold, while everyone around me was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I wore hoodies all year long--literally. I even slept in hoodies and thermal pants! I would sleep inside of a sleeping bag under the covers on my bed--that's how cold I always was.

Jerry took this horribly unflattering photo of me when I was sleeping. My lower half was inside of the sleeping bag, topped with a comforter and duvet cover. I was wearing a hoodie--with a long sleeve shirt underneath. And those tumblers in the background? My chewing ice, of course!

After being on the iron supplements for a while (maybe a month?) I noticed that I wasn't getting cold at night. In the evenings, I was able to sit without a blanket--which is unheard of for me. I'm used to dressing extremely warm, so changing this habit hasn't been fun. I get super hot when I go places sometimes! When we were at Cedar Point last week, I wore a jacket on top of a t-shirt--even though I'd been warmer lately, I couldn't imagine the thought of not being freezing to death. However, I almost immediately regretted wearing it. The rest of the day, I kept wondering if I should just ditch it, because I was kind of hot wearing it. (The temp was mid-70s, I think... a few months ago, I would need a winter snow suit.)

Cedar Point in 2015

I'm back to sleeping in a t-shirt and no extra blankets. And I'm actually sleeping! I've mentioned having chronic insomnia for as long as I can remember; for the last month or so, I've actually been sleeping for 5-6 hours a night--*real* sleep, not the tossing and turning kind I'm used to.

I still have some symptoms, but those may or may not be caused from the low iron. It's hard to say whether "brain fog" or "fatigue" or symptoms like that could be caused from one particular reason--it's a symptom of numerous possible issues. I'm actually deficient in Vitamin D as well, and I'm not as good about taking that supplement (I can't take it together with the iron, and I tend to forget to take it).

Now that I've gotten very consistent about taking the iron, and I've seen how effective it is, I'm going to try being just as consistent about taking the Vitamin D. I don't have any other deficiencies, so I'm curious if correcting my iron and Vitamin D will curb those symptoms.

Anyway, I just wanted to update in case anyone else is iron deficient and hasn't been diagnosed (by ferritin check) and/or you haven't had luck with other iron supplements. I can't say if it will work for everyone like it has worked for me, but I'm so relieved to have found a supplement that is clearing up my symptoms AND that my digestive system can tolerate. I'm grateful that someone else posted their experience with it; otherwise, I never would have heard of it or given it a chance.

And ferritin? I almost feel like it should be a regular annual blood screen, especially for higher-risk people. (Menstruating females are especially susceptible. As are pregnant or breastfeeding women, people with gastrointestinal diseases, people who have had bariatric surgery, even kids who drink a lot of cow's milk! Cow's milk doesn't contain much iron and it can decrease the absorption of iron. (source)

I never would have asked for my vitamin levels to be checked if I hadn't become vegan in 2021. I wanted to make sure I was covering all the bases with my diet. Being vegan didn't cause any deficiencies, but I never would have discovered the low iron if not for getting my ferritin checked. (The Vitamin D deficiency is super common and I've known about it for ages--I just never really took supplementing seriously.)

I had no idea that I'd ever feel "normal" again when it comes to my body temperature. And I always thought that even if my iron was totally normal, I'd still chew ice all day long because I love it. (Now, after only a few weeks or a month or so, the thought of chewing ice kind of hurts my teeth. Once in a while I grab some out of habit, but I can't really eat more than a few pieces. (Maybe that's why I've been snacking more--not having the ice to chew.)

It's so funny that the thought of wearing t-shirts this summer (or even long-sleeve but airy shirts) is thrilling to me!


  1. This is fabulous!! Thanks for the update. So glad the supplement is working in so many areas of your life (ice, temp, sleep, etc.). I'll give you a rah rah of encouragement to get on the vitamin D supplement too. That was a brain-changer for me. I still have brain fog at times, but nothing like when I was low in vitamin D.

  2. This is so interesting! I think I need to look into it myself. I am always freezing. I currently have my space heater on in my office. People walk in my office and die, but even with the heater on my hands are cold. I tried to donate blood years ago and they couldn't take it because my iron was low. I didn't put much more thought into it. Thanks for sharing and SO glad you are feeling better!

  3. Comment from an MD- you also would want to know TIBC and transferrin... as well as ferritin- I agree ferritin is important but TIBC and transferrin helps tell the whole picture. You wouldn't just focus on one of them. They're all related. Glad you're feeling better!

  4. I’m so glad to hear you feel better! It’s amazing what vitamin deficiencies can do to us. When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I had SEVEN known deficiencies. As my small intestines healed and I became diligent about supplements, my numbers normalized and I felt SO MUCH BETTER.

  5. Please get your Vitamin D level up. I crushed my femur from a simple fall and now have rods and bone cement to replace 10 inches the surgeon had to cut off. I had to learn to walk again. My new PCP is concerned that my low Vitamin D level caused osteopenia, weakened bones. It’s been quite a journey since October 3.

  6. Thank you for sharing! I am under an oncologists care and she put me on Iron supplements. The directions from the pharmacy say nothing to eat for 2 hours before or 1 hour after. I also take a B12. Trying this before any other method.


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