Recently, I made a discovery and wanted to share in with you. I certainly had no idea and maybe neither do you.
It started with not being able to run. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was absolutely exhausted….and I was barely jogging!
Then, I needed more and more time to recover between runs. First, skipping a day in between, then two, even three….so I could manage to run the same slow pace.
My father had passed away a few months ago and I had repeatedly gotten sick over the last few months, but I figured it was winter and there were some ugly virus’ making the rounds. There was the stress of a new job as well. I was sure I would bounce back, so I didn’t go to the doctor.
I continued to feel weaker, switching to walking from jogging and then to skipping exercise entirely. Some days I grew dizzy by simply standing. I was struggling to make it through a four hour work day. Something was definitely wrong.
After some simple blood tests, the doctor informed me that I was anemic. Specifically, iron deficiency anemia. When your body doesn’t have enough iron, it can’t produce enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your muscles and organs leaving you tired and weak.
And I had another strange symptom, which turned out to be related. I craved mint. Mint everything from peppermint tea to mint candies to mint lip balm. I even craved toothpaste. Normally, I’m not a huge mint fan.
This is how I actually started to figure out that I may have anemia and decided to visit the doctor. When I googled mint cravings, Google led me to a condition called Pica, unusual cravings for non-food items such as ice, dirt or clay. As I read the list of symptoms for iron deficiency anemia, I realized I had been dealing with nearly all of the symptoms for months.
Symptoms of severe anemia can include extreme fatigue and tiredness, weakness, dizziness, leg cramps, rapid pulse, shortness of breath, insomnia, brain fog and even depression. Yes, even depression! It makes sense really, as I was so exhausted just the essentials of life became a struggle.
Come to find out, this is a fairly common condition. And since I put a great deal of focus on living a healthy lifestyle, and ended up with iron deficiency anemia anyway, it seemed important to me to share this with you.
In my case, it will take 6-12 months of iron supplements to regain normal iron levels in my body. This was incredibly frustrating to me, both because of the physical limitations and my lack of knowledge and awareness. Hopefully this will not be the case for you.
So what causes anemia? The most common reasons are excessive blood loss, such as heavy menstrual cycles, hormonal issues or chronic diseases that leave your body unable to produce enough red blood cells, or nutrient deficiencies such as iron, folate, and/or vitamin B12 that are necessary for red blood cell production.
This isn’t something to self-diagnose or treat as getting too much iron can lead to other health issues and complications. Your doctor can monitor your iron intake with supplements and/or dietary changes and easily correct this mineral imbalance before it gets serious and debilitating.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to note that iron from meat sources is more easily absorbed in our bodies. If you aren’t eating much or any meat, you’ll want to pay closer attention to your iron levels. This was a huge factor in my situation.
Others particularly susceptible to iron-deficiency include endurance athletes and pregnant women, due to higher iron needs. And for women, who on average, need 18 grams of iron per day compared to the 8 grams a day of the average man.
The bottom line, if you develop signs of iron deficiency anemia, go see your doctor. I would even suggest checking your iron levels at your annual preventative exam if you don’t already. There’s no need to struggle with something so easily preventable!