Do you need more energy? Do you easily get tired or dizzy?
Fatigue or weakness is a common symptom in many people, especially the aging population. But just because it is common doesn’t mean it is normal. Fatigue or weakness may be caused by a lack of nutrients, hormonal imbalance, or even lack of enzymes or digestive function. While symptoms are bothersome, they are your body’s way of getting your attention to communicate that something isn’t working the way it should.
There are biomarkers that are associated with fatigue, and among them are ferritin and hemoglobin. I’ll explain.
Ferritin is a protein produced in your body with the primary purpose of binding to iron and storing it in the tissues. So your ferritin level is a really a good indicator of how much iron you have. Hemoglobin is the protein in your red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygen into all cells of your body, and iron is an essential mineral that is part of hemoglobin. Low levels of ferritin and hemoglobin mean there’s a deficiency of iron in your body.
So how does a lack of iron affect your energy levels?
If you lack iron, your blood carries less oxygen to your muscles and vital organs (including your brain). This affects your overall function and well-being, and you may feel weak and lethargic. Since oxygen is required by your cells to convert carbohydrates and fats into energy, you will be less likely to use energy efficiently during exercise or even during normal activities.
Typical symptoms of low hemoglobin in the blood include weakness, shortness of breath, fast and irregular heartbeat, headache, cold hands and feet, and pale or yellow skin. Since people with low hemoglobin are weaker, they tend to be at high risk for injury. Those with low levels of ferritin are also affected by poor concentration.
It is advisable to check your hemoglobin levels through a blood test (many doctors will do this if you ask). If you have a chronic illness, are pregnant, have problems with the kidney or liver, or have iron deficiency anemia, chances are you have low hemoglobin levels. However, it is possible to have low hemoglobin without any underlying cause.
You will be diagnosed with low hemoglobin if you fall into the following ranges:
Male – less than 13.5 grams per deciliter (g/dL) of hemoglobin in the blood
Female – less than 12 g/dL
Normal ranges of hemoglobin are:
Male – 13.5-17.5 g/dL
Female -12-15.5 g/dL
If you need to increase your ferritin and hemoglobin levels, here are some tips:
1. Increase intake of iron-rich foods and supplement
Take note that there are two types of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Heme has a high level of hemoglobin, and you can source it best in meat, especially red meat. While non-heme is found in plants. The majority of our dietary iron comes from non-heme sources such as rice, wheat, oats, nuts, and fruits.
Heme iron is easily absorbed compared to non-heme (and Vitamin C helps the iron uptake). If you are a vegetarian, bear in mind that the absorption rate of non-heme iron is only 2-20% compared to the 15-35% absorption rate of heme iron. Thus, you may also consider taking iron supplements.
The dosage of iron supplements depends on your level of hemoglobin, so it is best to discuss this with your health provider.
2. Increase folate intake
Folate is a natural form of vitamin B9 that is mostly found in dark leafy greens. It is essential in producing hemoglobin, particularly in making heme–the part of hemoglobin that carries oxygen. So if you are folate deficient, your red blood cells are incapable of reaching maturity, resulting in folate-deficiency anemia and low hemoglobin levels.
3. Increase absorption of iron
To maximize iron absorption, also increase foods rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene in your diet. Fish, liver, and squash are some foods rich in vitamin A, while carrots, sweet potatoes, and mangoes are rich in beta-carotene. Additionally, as I mentioned already, Vitamin C also increases iron absorption, so there’s another good reason to eat fruits and veggies daily.
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