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    Do Women Need Iron Supplements?

    Posted by: Gillian Day BHSc. Comp Med, Adv Dip Nat, AFMCP Grad

    Do Women Need Iron Supplements?

    Iron is an essential mineral to every one of our cells. Most cells contain iron, however the majority of iron in your body is contained within red blood cells (RBCs). Here, iron helps to make a protein called haemoglobin which specifically helps to carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron also plays vital roles in

    • creating energy from the nutrients we take in
    • increasing the immune systems’ ability to fight infection
    • supports a healthy reproductive system
    • co-ordinates the actions of different parts of our body through the transmission of nerve impulses within the central nervous systems

    Symptoms of low iron levels

    Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the western world affecting roughly 1 in 3 women of childbearing age. There are several symptoms that can occur when your iron levels are low or deficient. They include;

    • Fatigue, exhaustion, difficulty breathing – as your body is having trouble carrying oxygen to your cells.
    • Headache, dizziness and challenges concentrating – as your body is having trouble carrying oxygen to the brain.
    • Paleness – when RBCs become low in iron they become pale so the skin becomes paler.
    • Hair loss – when hair follicles don’t get enough oxygen they go into a ‘resting’ state; the hair falls out and doesn’t grow back until iron levels are restored.
    • Feeling cold, particularly in the hands and feet.
    • Frequent infections – RBCs help carry oxygen the spleen, which has an important job of fighting off infection.

    Where can I get iron?

    Iron is available in a variety of foods such as;

    Plant based foods

    • Spinach
    • Chickpeas
    • Lentils
    • Soybeans
    • Pumpkin seeds
    • Quinoa
    • Broccoli
    • Meat

    • Shellfish
    • Liver
    • Red meat
    • Turkey
    • The iron in plant-based foods is much harder to absorb than the iron in animal foods. Therefore, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to understand how to prepare iron-rich foods to make sure you absorb as much iron as possible.
    • Why would my body be low in iron?

    • not eating enough iron rich foods
    • we can store iron in the body, however we cannot make it so we need a constant supply, from foods or supplements.
    • trouble absorbing iron
    • we absorb iron through our stomach and bowel. Some health conditions including coeliac disease, low stomach acid and/or recent stomach surgery and even infection from parasites (particularly hookworm) can influence how much iron is absorbed in the body
    • blood loss.
    • If you lose blood, you lose iron. For women, a heavy menstrual cycle will increase the amount of iron lost from the body.
    • You have a higher risk of bleeding in the stomach or bowel if you take medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen or other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
    • When you don’t have enough iron, this is a deficiency and the end stage of this deficiency is called anaemia.

    Which pill for my ill – which iron supplement do I take?

    As critical as iron is in the body, getting too much of it can be dangerous, so it is really important to NOT self-diagnose an iron insufficiency or deficiency. The reason for this is simple: we have capacity to store iron in the body, however we’re not very good at eliminating it, except through bleeding. When we have too much iron circulating in the body, it can be stored in our tissues and organs which can be dangerous, particularly if iron is stored around the liver, heart or pancreas. Your health care provider will recommend a supplemental dose based on your iron levels. There are many forms of iron to consider and ferrous sulfate is commonly recommended as a first line treatment to improve iron levels at a dose of 400mg daily. It is estimated that roughly 3% of this dose is absorbed in the body, leaving a large amount of leftover iron circulating in the bloodstream which commonly causes unpleasant side effects such as nausea, constipation and upset stomach. Our favourite sources of iron with much higher absorption rates in the body and therefore, less side effects include;

    Thompsons organic iron

    Herbs of gold organic Iron Max

    Ethical nutrients mega iron

    Fusion Iron Blood Tonic

    If you experience any of the above symptoms; or you think your iron levels may be low, the take away message is this; it is critical to get a proper diagnosis before commencing any treatment. However once identified, iron deficiency anemia can be easily corrected with simple measures such as supplementation.

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