Women and Iron: What You Need to Know

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Exercise can affect iron levelsWhy is Iron Important?

Iron is vital for getting oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. It’s also needed for healthy skin, hair, and nails.

When do Women Need More Iron?

A woman’s iron needs vary over the course of her life. She is most at risk for iron deficiency during adolescence and her child-bearing years, when she loses iron every month through menstruation. A pregnant woman needs more iron for herself as well as for her unborn baby. When breastfeeding, she does not need as much iron as she did when she was pregnant.

Are There Other Times a Woman Needs More Iron?

Vegetarians and vegans may need more iron than people who eat meat. Iron needs also increase with kidney disease, ulcers, certain GI disorders, excessive use of antacids, weight loss surgery, and intense exercise.

What Are the Signs of Iron Deficiency?

Symptoms don’t usually show up until iron is pretty low. They include feeling tired, lack of energy, shortness of breath, cold hands and feet, sores at the corner of the mouth, poor memory or concentration, and a reduced ability to fight off infections.

What Are Some Good Sources of Iron?

There are two types of iron found in food: heme and non-heme. Meat, poultry, and fish are rich in heme iron. This is the iron your body absorbs the best. Nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, and fortified breads and cereals are sources of non-heme iron, which is harder for your body to absorb.

Can Anything Aid Iron Absorption?

Vitamin C helps your body absorb non-heme iron from plant foods. So put strawberries on your breakfast cereal and add bell peppers to bean dishes.

Should Women Take an Iron Supplement “Just in Case?”

The only way your body gets rid of iron is through blood loss, so taking a supplement when you don’t need it can lead to dangerous iron overload. Only take an iron supplement as directed by a doctor.

By Hollis Bass, MEd, RD

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