A large number of female patients present to the practice each year describing a group of related symptoms – feeling lethargic, experiencing mood changes, noticing reduced coping ability and difficulty concentrating. These are the typical symptoms of iron deficiency in women. A blood test can indicate whether iron is the problem. We discuss in more detail the symptoms of iron deficiency as well as the best sources of iron and the factors that can affect the levels of iron in your body.

 

Why are women at more risk of iron deficiency?

Adolescent growth spurts, menstruation and pregnancy all affect women’s health. Iron levels decrease during menstruation due to the loss of blood, and an increased level of iron is highly recommended during pregnancy to meet the needs of the foetus.  Additionally, some women tend to restrict diet for weight loss including restriction of both quantities and types of foods.  This can result in nutritional imbalances which significantly impact iron levels in the blood.

What does iron deficiency feel like?

  • Low endurance to get through work and other responsibilities
  • Constant feeling of fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Reduced coping mechanisms

Most commonly, female patients will be prompted to visit their GP because they feel like they aren’t coping with their usual daily stresses as well as usual.

How to increase iron intake?

To increase the intake of readily available iron, lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes and eggs are the best sources.  Non-meat eaters are at higher risk of iron-deficiency  as removing animal products means less readily available iron is in the diet. Non-meat-eaters need to replace these sources with good plant based sources of iron such as legumes, lentils, chick peas, kidney beans, baked beans.  Nuts, seeds, dried fruit can also provide some iron.

It is important to also be aware of the foods that can negatively affect iron absorption. Tannins in red wine can potentially decrease absorption of iron.  Studies have shown that drinking tea & coffee decreases iron absorption in the gut. If an iron supplement is taken, it is recommended to take this an hour before or after drinking any caffeine.  Consuming a vitamin C rich source at the same time as the iron meal, e.g. an orange, strawberries or capsicum can help absorption.

Please contact the practice if you would like to talk to your GP about any symptoms you have been experiencing or if you would like to request any tests. We are here to help.