The correlation between your iron levels and weight gain

Many of us struggle with low iron levels, reasons from diet to hormones.
Written by
Jessica Bahr
Reviewed by
Last updated on
September 15, 2023
min read
The Correlation Between Your Iron Levels and Weight Gain | Kin Fertility
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Whether it's due to diet, hormones, issues with absorption or health factors like heavy bleeding, many of us struggle with low iron levels.

Despite the fact that it is commonly found in a variety of foods, it can be difficult to maintain sufficient iron for your body's ability to function at its best, which can lead to a number of issues and health problems.

One thing iron deficiency can impact is your weight, and while it's natural for weight to fluctuate, it's also important to understand what is happening in your body and the underlying cause.

When you understand what is happening in your body, you will be able to take steps to make changes and you may even look at sustainable ways to lose weight.

It might sound overwhelming, but we are here to support you every step of the way, and help you get your head around what iron deficiency is, why iron intake is important, how iron can affect weight, and healthy options for weight loss if this is what you want.

Let's get started.

Why is iron important for your body?

Iron is an important mineral in the body, and has several key functions, including supporting red blood cells, transporting and storing oxygen, and energy production [1].

If you are iron deficient, your body struggles to make haemoglobin and red blood cells, which means your organs and tissues will not get enough oxygen [2].

When your haemoglobin levels become so low that you can no longer transport red blood cells, you can develop ongoing iron deficiency anaemia.

If your iron stores are low or you have iron deficiency anaemia, you can experience the following symptoms:

  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Feeling tired, weak, having low energy
  • Concentration and memory issues
  • Pale skin
  • Breathlessness
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Hair loss
  • Low thyroid function
  • Strangely smooth tongue [3].

For children, iron deficiency anaemia can cause a range of other common symptoms such as growth and development delays, loss of appetite, repeat infections and behavioural problems [4].

Iron deficiency can develop if you fail to get enough iron through your diet, your body struggles with iron absorption, or you lose iron stores through sweating, heavy periods and other blood loss.

Certain people have a higher chance of becoming iron deficient, including people who are breastfeeding or menstruating (especially those with heavy periods), vegetarians and vegans, babies and toddlers, people with poor diets, and people with Coeliac disease [4].

Additionally, people with an inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, along with people who have cancer or conditions that cause excessive blood loss, also commonly struggle with low iron levels due to gastrointestinal bleeding or internal bleeding [5].

Iron is commonly found in foods such as red meat, legumes, leafy greens and fortified breakfast cereals [1].

When it comes to treatment, patients with iron deficiency or anaemia are usually prescribed iron infusions or iron supplementation.

If you suspect you might have iron deficiency anaemia or need more iron, the first step is to speak to a doctor.

What are ferritin levels?

Ferritin levels are often mentioned in conjunction with iron levels and iron deficiency anaemia, but many people do not know what ferritin levels actually refer to or why they are important.

Ferritin is a blood protein that contains iron, and a ferritin test can assist your doctor in determining your iron levels [6].

The amount of ferritin you have in your blood (serum ferritin levels) is a common indicator of low iron, which in turn can lead to iron deficiency anaemia.

If your serum ferritin levels are higher than the average or recommended amount, this can be an indicator of diseases or conditions such as haemochromatosis, which causes an iron overload and too much iron absorption [7].

What is the difference between iron and ferritin?

Although ferritin levels and iron levels go hand in hand, they are not exactly interchangeable.

The main difference to understand is that iron is a mineral, whereas ferritin is a protein that contains the mineral. Your ferritin levels and iron levels are directly related because the lower your ferritin levels are, the more likely you are to also have low iron levels [8].

Can I have a high ferritin level but low iron?

Ferritin levels and iron deficiency are closely linked, and ferritin levels can go up and down depending on how much iron is in your body. If you have iron deficiency anaemia, your ferritin levels and iron levels will both be low.

However, high ferritin levels do not necessarily mean you also have high iron levels. In addition to storing iron, ferritin also plays a role in the immune response and can spike in people who have chronic inflammation, infections, and cancer [9].

You can simultaneously have these conditions — high ferritin levels and iron deficiency.

How do iron levels affect your weight?

In addition to causing the symptoms we mentioned earlier, studies have also found a correlation between low iron and weight gain.

So what does this mean, and how can low iron cause weight gain?

One way iron deficiency anaemia can impact your weight is through thyroid function and metabolism [10]. Your thyroid hormone and metabolism are responsible for helping your body burn calories, so naturally, if they are underactive, this can lead to weight gain.

Additionally, feeling fatigued is a common symptom of being iron deficient, which means doing exercise might be very difficult. We know exercise is a factor in weight, so if we stop exercising and become more sedentary, many of us are likely to gain weight.

Can increasing iron help you lose weight?

The short answer is yes.

This can be for both medical and lifestyle reasons. For example, if you are trying to improve your iron intake through diet and the consumption of iron-rich foods, this is likely to lead to an increase in healthy meals, which can contribute to weight loss.

Similarly, if low iron levels are causing you to lack the energy for exercise, iron supplements or iron infusions could help improve your energy and lead to working out more.

As we've mentioned, low iron can impact your thyroid hormone and metabolism, so when you start absorbing more iron, these processes improve and your body's ability to burn calories will resume.

It's important to remember that everyone's body is different and there are other factors that can cause you to lose or gain weight. Taking iron supplements or getting iron infusions will not instantly result in weight loss, and should not be used as a weight loss tool.

Kin's daily Iron Support supplement is designed to relieve fatigue from inadequate iron intake and low iron levels in pregnancy.

Formulated to support you during conception, pregnancy, postpartum or just daily, the Iron Support relieves tiredness, supports a baby's development, sustains healthy iron levels and maintains energy production.

Healthier ways to help you lose weight

Your body will change over the course of your life and while this is to be expected, there's nothing wrong with wanting to lose the weight that may be associated with low iron levels.

Losing weight in a sustainable way is often difficult when using fad diets and restrictive meal plans and these don't take your personalised needs into account.

This is why an option like Juniper's Weight Reset Program can be helpful. The program offers a medical pathway for long-term weight loss and is designed by Australian doctors and dietitians.

Juniper's Weight Reset Program takes a medical and health-based approach to weight loss and includes doctor-prescribed medication, dietician-led coaching and support, and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

The clinically-proven medication helps to suppress your appetite, while also slowing stomach emptying and improving metabolic function and can result in a 10-15% weight loss in one year.

When it comes to both weight management and iron supplementation, we do not recommend self-diagnosis or self-treatment. Please speak to a doctor to make sure any regime you undertake will keep you healthy, happy, and comfortable in your skin!

Image credit: Getty Images

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