Feeling tired? You’re not alone.
In fact, it’s one of the most common symptoms your GP or local pharmacist gets asked about. If you’re a woman aged 19-50 the stats are even higher, with up to 50% of women in this age group feeling this way on a regular basis. Nutrition plays an important role in health and vitality with deficiencies in micronutrients such as iron commonly associated with fatigue and low energy. Before we go any further with this chat, let’s define fatigue so that we are all on the same page. Fatigue is a term used to describe an overall feeling of tiredness or lack of energy. You might also find it hard to motivate yourself to do physical tasks or experience brain fog or have trouble concentrating.
So why do you feel tired? There are many reasons and certainly if you are experiencing ongoing, unremitting fatigue, I highly recommend you see your General Practitioner for an accurate diagnosis.
Iron is often top of mind for fatigue and especially in women aged 19-50 years. Iron deficiency is very common for women in this age group because most have a regular period. The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for iron reflects this with a higher intake of 18mg. Iron is found in many foods in haem (animal) and non-haem (plant) forms. It is interesting that many women are increasingly choosing to eat a plant-based diet with many avoiding red meat altogether. There are many health benefits for this including a healthier BMI and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, however, it can make it harder to get enough iron. Plants often contain compounds such as phytates and polyphenols which can block iron uptake. So, when you consume less iron but have an increased need, it can result in a negative iron balance and this starts to impact your iron stores or ferritin. Iron deficiency anaemia is diagnosed when your haemoglobin falls below a specified threshold and you have reduced red cell count and haematocrit. Many women are told their iron is ok despite having low iron stores and reporting fatigue, so although you may not be anaemic, you may not have sufficient iron available to form healthy red blood cells with enough haemoglobin to transport oxygen around your body.
What is also interesting is that other nutrients that are involved in energy production and the transport of oxygen around the body like iron, are also sourced predominantly from animal sources. Nutrients vitamin B12, coenzyme Q10, as well as iodine that is needed for thyroid function, are required for optimal energy production and oxygenation, and like iron, if you are not consuming adequate sources of them it’s highly probable that you would experience fatigue or low energy. Your body does produce its own CoQ10, but the supply starts to dwindle after the age of 30 and dietary intake becomes an important source.
If you’ve been experiencing fatigue and have been told that your iron levels ‘are fine’, it might be worth investigating if your diet is providing enough of these nutrients to support your body’s energy production; especially if you eat a mostly plant-based diet.