Chapter 2 – Am I Low Iron? Symptoms

By Dr. Jake Rabinowitz

Feeling tired, depressed, dizzy? Eating ice? Low iron may be to blame.

Low iron may seem like a catch-all diagnosis, but that’s simply because it manifests in so many symptoms. Consider this a guide to help you self-diagnose. After, Chapter 3 – Am I Low Iron? Testing will be a guide to help pyou navigate diagnostic testing.

Low energy

Low energy (chronic fatigue syndrome) is the most common symptom of low iron. It occurs due to iron’s crucial role of transporting oxygen through the body. Oxygen powers metabolism and low iron causes low oxygen levels. Thus, low iron reduces the body’s ability to generate energy, leading to excessive or debilitating fatigue. Many people with low iron become highly reliant on coffee or napping to get through a regular day with an irregularly low amount of energy. 

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is another very common symptom of low iron. It occurs because a lack of iron reduces the body’s ability to make red blood cells that can absorb enough oxygen. As a result, the body may not fill up with enough oxygen and the short-of-breath feeling can develop as a reaction to prompt more air intake. 

Depression, anxiety, and brain fog

Neurological issues, including depression, anxiety, and brain fog, are other major symptoms of low iron. These occur due to how iron helps deliver oxygen to various components of the brain and how oxygen is involved in the synthesis of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Low iron can cause poor oxygen flow through the brain, which may lead to anxiety, brain fog, and lack of focus. Low iron can also impair the body’s dopamine processing, affecting the brain’s reward system and contributing to depression. These factors are also certainly influenced by the depressing and anxiety-inducing nature of dealing with this full list of symptoms. 


Weakness is another hallmark of low iron. It occurs because of how low iron hinders metabolism (which provides energy to cells) and oxygen transport (which can result in carbon dioxide accumulation). Iron is also involved in muscle fiber activation, meaning that low iron can prevent muscles from activating before and after working out. All these effects can combine to create profound feelings of weakness in individuals with low iron. 

Seeing stars

Seeing stars, or photopsia, is another common low iron symptom. It occurs due to low iron damaging the blood vessels behind the retina, which is also known as retinopathy. Extreme cases of retinopathy are a leading cause of blindness.


Especially when standing up, dizziness affects many people with low iron. This feeling is though to be the weakened body’s response to its oxygen-depleted state. In other words, the body causes people to feel dizzy to reduce physical activity, so that more oxygen can flow to the heart, brain, and other essential organs.

Restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is an uncomfortable and hard-to-describe sensation in the legs. It usually causes people to experience the urge to move or tap their legs. This erratic behavior is a response to low dopamine, poor oxygen flow, and stressed muscles.

Eating Ice

Hair loss, pale skin, and brittle nails

Low iron can cause hair loss (in all genders), pale skin, and brittle nails. These symptoms occur due to how low iron reduces oxygen flow to hair roots and skin/nail cells. Such cells need oxygen to generate new hair, skin, and nails. These symptoms also occur due to how iron is involved in the synthesis of keratin, a structural protein present in hair, skin, and nails, and the synthesis of biotin, a vitamin that is crucial to healthy skin, hair and nails. Low iron can thus reduce the production of keratin and biotin while depriving cells of the oxygen they need to produce new hair, skin, and nails. 

Poor eating

Poor eating occurs as part of a dreaded cycle where low iron prevents people from eating and restoring their iron levels, thereby worsening the low iron status. Low iron may cause poor eating due to how it affects the processing of neurotransmitters, which signal feelings of being hungry and full. Low iron may also cause poor eating due to preventing sufficient oxygen flow to the GI tract and thereby hindering digestion. 

Feeling cold and cold extremities

Low iron is a very legitimate factor in why so many people dread winter, pile under blankets, and blast the heat. Feeling cold occurs because low iron impairs blood flow, which prevents the body from adequately warming up. The effect is most pronounced in the hands and feet as the last regions of the body to receive circulating blood.

Easy bruising

Another symptom of low iron is being very easy to bruise. This occurs because low iron can increase platelet levels. With extra platelets, the blood may “overreact” to external pressure and bruise more easily than normal.

Chewing ice and other strange cravings

Chewing ice is as real a low iron symptom as the rest. People with low iron often report cravings for non-food items, a condition known as pica. An addiction to chewing ice is observed to be the most common form of pica for people with low iron. Other substances that may get chewed include paper, dirt, and clay. It is not exactly known why low iron causes pica, but some have suspected that chewing helps increase alertness to combat the reduced alertness caused by low iron. In the future, we’ll do a deeper dive on the science behind ice chewing.

How to treat your low iron symptoms

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, Iron Lift may be your solution. It has highly absorbed iron to help boost energy, restore hair/nails, and improve mood/focus. Iron Lift is made to address all the above symptoms — and more! 

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  • Jake Rabinowitz

    Dr. Jake Rabinowitz is an engineering PhD and author of 10 peer-reviewed publications with over 150 citations. He has expertise in nutrition science and food manufacturing. Across his career, he has held positions in engineering, consulting, IP, and management. He founded Smart Eats in 2022 to deliver better nutrition solutions. You can learn more on his LinkedIn Profile and Google Scholar Profile.

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