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  • Dr Ebony Tosch

The Most Common Nutritional Deficiency in the World

Updated: May 6, 2020


a mineral obtained through diet that is used throughout the body and is especially important to help make blood cells that transport oxygen around the body.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, and most commonly affects women and children.


  • Iron deficiency is common, particularly in women and children.

  • Common symptoms are tiredness and headache.

  • Don’t self-diagnose, you might miss something serious.

  • Your doctor can easily diagnose and treat iron deficiency.

What are the signs?

  • fatigue, tiredness, weakness

  • headache, dizziness

  • impaired memory, learning, and concentration

  • reduced immune functioning leading to frequent infections

  • developmental delay or poor growth in children

  • reduced ability to exercise or play sports

  • shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat

  • pale complexion

What causes low iron?

Iron deficiency is either caused by the body not getting enough iron, or using up more iron than usual. You may not be getting enough iron if there isn’t enough in your diet or if your gut is not absorbing it well – as in coeliac disease, intestinal infections, or following stomach/duodenal surgery. The body may use up more iron than usual due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, growth spurts, exercise, or blood loss. Blood loss includes heavy periods, nose bleeds, blood donation, dialysis, and microscopic blood loss from the bowel (ulcers, bowel cancers, and inflammatory bowel disease).

Do you think you might be iron deficient?

If you think you might have iron deficiency, please, see your doctor. They can do some simple checks and blood tests that should quickly give you an answer and help to rule out any more serious causes for your symptoms. Please do not to self-diagnose with iron deficiency and just start taking iron tablets, as the symptoms of iron deficiency can also be from more serious conditions unrelated to iron and sometimes iron deficiency itself needs further testing to exclude a sinister cause. Iron supplements can cause side effects in the gut such as nausea/vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea, and impaired mineral absorption, which can lead to other problems. They can also be dangerous in patients with haemochromatosis (too much iron), a condition which can also cause fatigue.

Can it be treated?

If your doctor diagnoses you with iron deficiency there are several treatments available depending on your circumstances and preferences. You may have to make dietary changes to increase your iron intake, or go onto oral iron tablets/syrup. If the body’s iron stores are quite low or iron tablets are not suitable for you, your doctor may recommend an infusion or injection of iron straight into the vein. This works much quicker than diet or tablets and bypasses the gut which is helpful if you are not absorbing iron well.

Dr Ebony Tosch is a Sydney GP practicing full-time in the North Shore suburb of Gordon. Passionate about women's health and children's health, Dr Tosch spends time advocating for her patients' needs and setting up an Infusion Clinic at her practice to increase accessibility. She also welcomes maternity shared care arrangements, family planning, and has an interest in treating eating disorders. To make an appointment with Dr Tosch, call 94999999 or visit .

The advice in this article is of a general nature where specific advice to conditions should only be seek from your doctor.

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