If you’re experiencing mental health issues, you may be wondering whether iron deficiency could be to blame. Symptoms such as low-iron brain fog, anxiety and depression can be distressing to deal with, but it’s important to know the facts before starting iron supplements to address mental health conditions. Below, we’ll outline everything you need to know about iron and mental health.
Why Do We Need Iron?
Iron is an essential mineral for mental and physical well-being because it helps your body make certain hormones and proteins. You need iron to produce hemoglobin, a type of protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body. Iron is also crucial for making the protein myoglobin, which supplies oxygen to your muscles.
You could develop a condition called anemia if you don’t get enough iron in your diet. Anemia is relatively common in the United States, and you’re more likely to develop the condition if you’re pregnant, donate blood regularly or have heavy periods. People who follow a plant-based lifestyle also have a higher risk of anemia because vegetarian or vegan diets often exclude many iron-rich foods. Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia may include:
- Upset stomach
- Low immunity
- Problems with body temperature regulation
- Concentration and memory problems
Most adults need around 45 milligrams of iron per day to stay healthy. However, some people need more or less iron than average. For example, your doctor may recommend taking more iron to support your health during pregnancy.
Low-Iron Brain Fog: How Does Iron Deficiency Affect Mental Health?
Can low iron cause anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders? Research has shown that these issues can be related to an iron deficiency. Therefore, taking iron supplements or eating iron-rich foods could help reduce your symptoms if your doctor diagnoses low iron.
So, why does iron deficiency affect your mental well-being? The answer is complex. Getting enough iron is essential for maintaining a healthy balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, and it also supports the transmission of information throughout your nervous system. Neurotransmitter imbalances can cause emotional problems and lead to psychosocial difficulties, such as problems managing work or school commitments.
You may have heard the term “low-iron brain fog” used to describe the feeling of being iron deficient. The term refers to the reduced concentration, memory problems and fatigue caused by not getting enough iron. Low iron and brain fog can make participating in your usual activities harder and affect your social interactions, increasing your risk of mental health issues.
Another factor to consider is the connection between low iron and sleep disorders. An iron deficiency significantly increases your risk of developing a sleep disorder because it can cause restless legs syndrome (RLS). This condition causes unpleasant sensations in your legs that often get worse at night. Many people with RLS feel an irresistible desire to move their legs to relieve the sensation, making it difficult to fall asleep. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can trigger or worsen mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Dietary Sources and Supplementation
There are two types of iron found in food: heme and nonheme. Meat, poultry and seafood are rich sources of both heme and nonheme iron, while plant-based foods contain only the nonheme form of the mineral. The heme form is more bioavailable than nonheme iron, which means it’s easier for your body to absorb.
However, getting enough iron from your diet is still possible if you’re vegetarian or vegan, although it could take a bit more planning. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people who eat mainly plant-based foods need almost twice as much iron as meat eaters. Iron-rich plant-based foods include:
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Iron-fortified bread
- White beans
- Kidney beans
You can make the iron in your food easier to absorb by adding foods rich in vitamin C to your meals. Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, as are vegetables such as tomatoes and broccoli. Alternatively, you could consider drinking a small glass of orange juice with iron-rich meals.
Your doctor may recommend taking an iron supplement if you have iron-deficiency anemia. You can purchase iron supplements over the counter at a pharmacy, and many multivitamin supplements also contain iron. Supplements can contain different amounts of iron, so it’s essential to check the packaging carefully to ensure the dosage is right for you. Like iron-rich foods, it’s easier to absorb iron from supplements if you take them with a source of vitamin C.
Consultation With Health Care Professionals
Increasing the iron in your diet or taking supplements can help reduce low-iron brain fog and may help improve the symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. However, it’s wise to check with your health care provider before adding iron supplements to your wellness routine. Increasing your iron intake may help your recovery, but it isn’t a substitute for proven mental health treatments.
Excessive iron consumption can also be harmful. Taking too much iron can cause digestive issues such as vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain, and it could even lead to stomach inflammation and ulcers. Furthermore, too much iron can sometimes cause low zinc levels — another trace mineral that’s important for mental health. Your health care provider can assess whether iron deficiency is a factor in your mental health condition and determine a safe dosage to help you find relief.
Iron deficiency can cause similar symptoms to several other physical and mental health conditions. If you’re experiencing symptoms of anemia, it’s important to speak with a clinician to rule out other causes.
Start Your Recovery Today
The experts at Sun Health Center specialize in helping people overcome mental health conditions and achieve a better quality of life. Our knowledgeable clinicians can create a personalized treatment plan using proven therapies and help you decide if iron supplementation is right for you. Contact us today to explore your treatment options and learn more about our cutting-edge programs.