"The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook" describes iron deficiency as one of the most frequent mineral deficiencies in the world. It leads to anemia, a condition that develops when your body does not produce enough healthy red blood cells to supply your organs adequately with oxygen. Iron deficiency can cause a range of symptoms, including headaches.
Causes and Risk Factors
Iron deficiency anemia results from low or exhausted iron reserves in your body. In adults, the most common cause is blood loss, either from menstruation or from bleeding in the digestive tract. Deficiency can also result from consuming too little iron in your diet. However, "The Merck Manual" lists low dietary intake as an uncommon cause of iron deficiency in the U.S. because many foods are fortified with iron. Those most at risk for getting too little iron from their diet are vegetarians, infants, young children, teenage girls and pregnant women.
Iron is a critical mineral because it helps produce hemoglobin, a protein that enables oxygen transport within your red blood cells. Insufficient iron supply compromises oxygen delivery to your body’s tissues, including your brain. You may, as a result, experience headaches. Statistically, however, headaches occur less often than other symptoms of iron deficiency anemia, according to the "Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide." More common symptoms include tiredness, lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath and irritability.
According to the "Family Health Guide," food is the best source of iron. However, your doctor may recommend iron tablets or injections to correct a diagnosed iron deficiency. For prevention, eat such iron-rich foods as legumes and beans, red meats, seafood, poultry, eggs or dark green, leafy vegetables. Many cereals and derived products are also enriched with iron. Keep in mind that vitamin E and zinc can reduce iron absorption in your body. In contrast, you can enhance iron absorption by taking apple juice or other vitamin C-rich foods along with your iron supplement.
Iron deficiency is not the only possible cause of occasional or chronic headaches. If you suspect that you have iron deficiency anemia, do not self-diagnose or self-treat. Rather, consult your healthcare provider for appropriate testing. Excessive supplementation can lead to iron poisoning symptoms within six hours of an overdose, according to "The Merck Manual." Iron overload can damage your liver, intestine or other organs.
- Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide (1st Free Press Edition); Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D., et al.
- The Merck Manual Home Health Handbook (2nd Edition); Robert S. Porter, M.D., et al.