Gluten Sensitivity and Iron Deficiency Anemia - Are They Related? | Gluten-Free Society

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    Iron RBC GlutenIron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficits found in patients with celiac disease and non celiac gluten sensitivity.  The most common symptom linked to iron deficiency is unwavering fatigue.  Patients will often report severe loss of energy even when sleep has been adequate.  This energy deprivation can also contribute to severe brain fog and mental clarity issues.  Iron deficiency can often times be confused with low thyroid or hypothyroidism.

    Iron loss can contribute to a multitude of health problems – not just fatigue.  Some of the most common side effects of iron deficiency include:

    • shortness of breath (people often report that they cannot get enough air into their lungs)
    • irritability
    • extreme fatigue (people commonly report sleeping for 8 + hours and still waking up exhausted)
    • chronic recurrent infections (cold and flu)
    • craving ice
    • hair loss
    • headaches
    • weakened nails
    • restless legs syndrome
    • angular stomatitis (cracking in the corner of the lips)
    • chapped lips
    • easy bruising

    Research Shows Iron Deficiency Linked to Gluten Exposure

    The following research study published in the Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology discusses how iron deficiency can be the first symptom associated with celiac disease.  The results of the research led to the recommendation of ruling out gluten sensitivity in all patients with iron deficiency anemia.  The study additionally recommends this screening in patients who supplement with iron, but still have persistently low levels (refractory iron deficiency).

    Bottom line: if you suffer with any of the symptoms listed below for unknown reasons.  You should have your doctor do two things –

    1. Order an iron panel with ferritin
    2. Rule out gluten sensitivity

    What You Should Know About Gluten and Iron

    Gluten sensitivity and iron deficiency are commonly found together.  Gluten can contribute to iron deficiency in several ways.  Malabsorption of iron is often a consequence of damage to the small intestine (villous atrophy).  Additionally, gluten can damage the acid producing cells of the stomach.  Since acid is a necessary component for iron absorption, this commonly leads to anemia even in the absence of villous atrophy identification.

    Anemia leads to oxygen deficiency which in turn can reduce the body’s ability to generate energy, which in turn can cause a cyclic state of healing inhibition.

    Aside from gluten induced damage, iron deficiency can occur in menstruating women with heavier periods.  Iron deficiency can also occur when there is slow steady blood loss.  This can occur in a hidden manor (occult blood loss) or it can be more obvious as in the case of hemorrhoids.

    Iron deficiency and gluten sensitivityLack Of Iron Causes Immune Problems

    Iron is an essential element in the formation of lactoferrin, a protein used by the immune system to help fight gastrointestinal infections.  This includes viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections.  This is critical because in the presence of persistent GI infection, leaky gut syndrome is allowed to perpetuate regardless of a gluten free diet change.  Additionally, the protein lactoferrin aids in both growth and in some studies has shown cancer protective qualities.

    Children with iron deficiency often exhibit lethargic behavior, and suffer with unexplainable fever spikes as well as chronic recurrent infections.

    Do you have a story about gluten sensitivity and iron deficiency?  Don’t be shy and chime in below in the comments section.

    Always looking out for you,
    Dr. Osborne – The Gluten Free Warrior

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    Gluten Free Warrior Commentary


    3 responses on “Gluten Sensitivity and Iron Deficiency Anemia – Are They Related?

    1. Carina says:

      A year ago my new family doctor examined me simply because he didn’t have much on file about me. Then he found out I had a severe iron deficiency. The number was 3 which should be at least 40. It surprised him I felt good. However, he thought the reason for this was that I hadn’t catch up with my severe C-section, now 7 years ago. Starting a treatment with iron tablets and even an iron injection right into the muscle (for which I’m allergic we found out AFTER the injection) didn’t do much. In December I was tested for gluten sensitivity, positive! Started a gluten free diet and my iron was going up! Unfortunately I have been lazy with gluten free last few weeks and my numbers are down to 6.4 from 11.2. I feel very tired which I never did even when my numbers were less then this. Learn the hard way I’m really sensitive to gluten. I’m not sure if I ever can go back to gluten, for now I have to eliminate it from my diet!

    2. Amy Lands says:

      Gluten sensitivity and celiac are a family trait and 1 in 2 people in my family have it.

    3. Rhonda says:

      I have always been anemic and had no digestive issues until a year ago when I was assaulted and left with 8 concussions and a boat load of extreme stress. Within a week of this I became severely intolerant to gluten. I cant even make a sandwich for my boyfriend without getting sick. I AM THE FIRST IN MY FAMILYS HISTORY TO HAVE GLUTEN INTOLERANCE.

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