Iron - The Mineral Women Can No Longer Afford to IgnoreNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Reportedly, up to four to five billion people may have an iron deficiency. Furthermore, an estimated 2 million are anemic. Although not all cases of anemia are due to a lack of iron, many of them are. In fact, several credible sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), say that iron deficiency is one of the most severe and important nutrient deficiencies worldwide.
Iron is a critical mineral that every single cell in your body needs. It is needed to make hemoglobin, a component of your red blood cells that delivers oxygen to all the cells in your body. Without adequate iron, your body can’t carry enough oxygen to your vital organs.
(Oxygen helps to metabolize (burn) the nutrients released from the food you eat and for energy. To put your need for oxygen in perspective, you can live for weeks without food, days without water but only a few minutes without oxygen).
If you have iron-deficiency anemia, symptoms (which depend on the severity of the deficiency) may include weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, fast or irregular heartbeat, pounding or ‘whooshing’ in your ears and more.
“Iron deficiency anemia rarely causes death, but the impact on human health is significant,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“In the developed world, this disease is easily identified and treated, but frequently overlooked by physicians. In contrast, it is a health problem that affects major portions of the population in underdeveloped countries. Overall, the prevention and successful treatment for iron deficiency anemia remains woefully insufficient worldwide, especially among underprivileged women and children.”
Although Men Can Suffer From Iron Deficiency, Women Are Taking the Hardest Hit.
Overall, iron-deficiency anemia affects more women than men, especially in pregnant women and women who have heavy menstrual periods. When women menstruate, they lose iron through blood. Sufficient amounts of iron may be lost even in women who do not have particularly heavy monthly periods if the iron is not being replaced.
“In women of fertile age, iron loss consequent to excessive menstrual discharge is by far the most frequent cause of iron-deficient anemia. However, the relationship between menstrual discharge and iron loss is poorly understood,” says the NIH.
Reportedly, iron-deficiency anemia affects one in six pregnant women (more iron is needed during pregnancy to support a developing baby). And up to five percent of women of childbearing age develop iron-deficiency anemia due to heavy bleeding from their periods.
“Iron deficiency (ID) is a common nutritional problem lead to many unintended consequences such as decrease energy, immune system problems, and neurological dysfunction,” according to one medical journal.
Iron deficiency may also have a major impact on mental health.
“The most common psychological disorder is depression. A patient with ID anemia (IDA) show signs and symptoms of behavioral and mood disorders like depression.”
Many women are depressed during their childbearing years (25-45), and this could be due to the loss of blood during menstruation and also the demand of iron to support a developing baby when pregnant. This all may explain why depression is twice as prevalent in younger women than men.
Indeed, some women may seek medical help for their depressive symptoms, without realizing that a lack of iron may be the problem. Not all doctors suggest nutrient testing, which could be the key to why someone is having a mental or physical health problem.
Furthermore, iron deficiency in children may increase the likelihood of developing ADHD.
“Sometimes iron deficiency will present as anxiety, depression, irritability, and even poor concentration and general restlessness. For example, iron deficiency has much higher prevalence in children diagnosed with ADHD, and the symptoms can improve with iron supplementation,” reports Psychology Today.
One study found that ADHD patients tend to have lower iron levels.
According to one recent report, although iron deficiency in women “is an easy problem to fix, it remains unfixed.”
Why Is Iron Deficiency An Easy Fix?
Treatment for iron deficiency is simple: give iron. Iron tablets are usually the first-line treatment, because they are cheap and easily available.
“Many doctors prescribe iron tablets for anaemic women, especially those who are pregnant. Many national and international guidelines suggest that iron should be given prophylactically. In countries where iron deficiency is widespread, iron supplements are given to all pregnant women, irrespective of whether they are anaemic. But still, anaemia persists,” the report says.
There are many ways to give supplementation with iron if you are deficient, including:
- Supplement pills
- Intravenous drip
- Fortified water
- Cooking with iron utensils
The problem is healthcare professionals have yet to determine which method is best for each case of iron deficiency. For example, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding what would work best for a pregnant woman versus a woman with heavy menstrual bleeding.
“These subtleties need attention, not just because they can affect the efficacy of iron treatments, but because side effects and tolerance to treatments can also vary,” says the report.
“There are over 100 published clinical trials of iron interventions both for pregnant women and for women who have just had a baby. Newer preparations of iron are constantly under development. So the question remains: why hasn't this solved the problem?”
It Appears That If The Patient is Proactive, This Can Make All the Difference.
The report reveals that many women with heavy periods tend to go years enduring anemia before getting any medical attention. Many women consider fatigue and other symptoms they may get from a heavy period just “something they have to deal with.” A lot of women don’t even know they are suffering from anemia and have to replenish their bodies with the iron they are losing.
These same women then get pregnant and begin their pregnancies with a lack of iron.
According to the report, the “consequences of iron deficiency anaemia in pregnancy are alarming. In cases of severe anaemia, our research found that the condition can double the risk of death for the mother. In less severe cases, iron deficiency anaemia can lead to low birth weight, early delivery and poor brain development in babies.”
How Can You Be Proactive?
Knowing is half the battle. Don’t chalk up symptoms of fatigue and depression to stress and being overworked. Your body and mind need various nutrients like iron in the right amounts to operate like the well-oiled machine that it can be. Again, this is why we always stress the importance of nutritional testing. If you are a menstruating or pregnant woman, you especially have to be proactive about making sure your iron levels are adequate.
The sooner a deficiency is determined, the better. And I would advise any woman who is trying to get pregnant, to make sure that the tests which reflect optimal iron levels are performed. Also ask your doctor or a competent healthcare professional what you can do to maintain good iron levels throughout pregnancy. You may have to tweak your diet and/or take quality supplements.
To learn more about iron and iron-rich foods, read here. If you are vegan or vegetarian, it is extremely important to get proper nutritional advice regarding iron. For example, our bodies may tend to absorb iron more efficiently from animal foods than plant foods.
Let’s enjoy our healthiest lives!
For more about the important role minerals like iron play in our mental and physical health, read here.
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