Examining the effects of iron deficiency.

The one question that every university student asks: why am I so tired?! The severity of student exhaustion becomes quite apparent when you wake up before class and your first thought is devoted to counting the hours before you can go back to sleep. Nearly all students face sleep deprivation at some point, but how does this tired feeling occur? One possible culprit of constant fatigue is iron deficiency.

Anemia is a disorder that involves a lack of red blood cells leading to reduced oxygen transportation. While there are many causes of anemia, the most common reason is due to low levels of iron in the blood. This iron deficiency can wreak havoc on the already-fragile bodies of stressed-out university students. Thanks to the ridiculously inconvenient cramp-filled shark week that women experience each month, females are particularly at risk for losing red blood cells and thus developing anemia. On our very own campus, the estimated prevalence of anemia is up to 240 females and 85 males.

But why does a lack of iron cause fatigue? Iron is required to produce hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying molecule that is present in the blood. With a lack of iron, the production of hemoglobin stalls and oxygen cannot be transported from the lungs to areas such as the muscles and brain. Similar to the feeling of exhaustion after running a marathon, the anemic body is zapped of energy due to a lack of oxygenation. To test if a person is anemic a Complete Blood Count (CBC) can be performed to examine the levels of hemoglobin in the blood. A typical range is considered to be between 40-52% for men and 35-47% for women.

If your hemoglobin range is out of whack, do not fear! Many tips and tricks can help you to avoid iron deficiency and improve energy. First off, consistently eating high-iron foods such as beef, eggs, oatmeal, and peanut butter can help you avoid falling asleep in class. Another method involves taking iron-rich supplements. Some vitamins contain up to 200mg of iron which can significantly contribute to preventing anemia from occurring. Lastly, and more severely, red blood cell transfusions can be used for severe iron deficiency in cases of anemia when other methods may fail.

Living the university dream is extremely tiring. While there is a multitude of causes that may be contributing to student fatigue, considering the effects of low iron is an important starting place.