Iron isn't always the answer for fatigue

I recently treated a woman in her 40s who had been experiencing fatigue for two years -- and the entire time, her other doctors kept telling her that her lab tests were "normal."

But fatigue is never normal, so I ran a few more tests -- including a test for iron stores known as ferritin.

As it turned out, her levels were quite low due to very heavy periods. Within two weeks of increasing her iron levels, her fatigue began to fade.

For some women, iron can be a safe, inexpensive and completely natural way to slash fatigue levels -- but file this one under "don't try this at home."

Too much iron can be as dangerous as too little, so you shouldn't take iron pills unless you've been diagnosed with a deficiency -- even if the latest research sounds great on paper.

In this one, women who took 80mg of iron a day cut their fatigue levels by 50 percent, compared to 28 percent among those given a placebo.

But it's a lot more complicated than "pop a pill, and feel better."

The 198 women in this study had tests for circulating iron, and while they were not deficient, they were all in the lower end of the "normal" range.

It's a wide range, and some women do better in the middle and upper end of it, but the real problem is that these tests alone simply don't tell you enough. Most doctors never run a ferritin test -- and without that, it's simply impossible to have a clear picture of the patient's true iron levels.

So, it could have been low iron. But it could have been something else, too.

Remember, there are many common causes of fatigue, including viral infections, fungal growth, parasites, and drug side effects. But the one that comes up most often is a hormonal imbalance -- usually the so-called "adrenal burnout" that is among the most under-diagnosed hormonal problems in the country.

Because there are so many possible causes for fatigue, it's important that you don't try to self-diagnose and self-treat. And whatever you do, don't add iron supplements to your regimen on your own -- but do make sure your doctor tests both your circulating iron and ferritin levels.

I recommend a holistic doctor who can perform advanced testing, including comprehensive iron testing, to find the true cause of your fatigue.