Iron: the most common nutritional deficiency in women
The most common nutritional deficiency in women is iron, as most women and people who menstruate lose blood each month. In fact, iron deficiency is the most common cause of heavy periods. Iron is a necessary part of our body as it transports oxygen throughout the body, and helps with thyroid production.
As mentioned, you’re at risk for this deficiency if you experience heavy periods. If you use a cup to track blood loss, anything over 80mL is considered a risk. Similarly if you are changing pads or tampons every 2 hours or less, you are at risk for deficiency.
Signs & Symptoms of an iron deficiency
An iron deficiency can lead to many symptoms including:
Mental and physical exhaustion
Mouth ulcers and oral tongue
Shortness of breath
Cold hands and feet
Testing your iron status
Finding out your iron levels is very simple. A doctor will run your serum ferritin levels (the storage form of iron), and ensure that they are optimal. Depending on if you choose to supplement or increase dietary sources of iron, your ferritin levels may take more than 3-6 months to improve.
Food sources of iron
There are two types of iron – heme and non heme. Heme iron is found in animal products, such as meat – and is generally better absorbed. While non-heme is found in plant-based products like lentils and leafy greens. Iron is best absorbed with vitamin C. So if you’re going to make yourself a kale salad, squeeze some lemon on top! Dairy can actually inhibit iron absorption, so try to avoid pairing these two.
Moreover, if your iron levels are quite low, it’s usually best to supplement with a quality iron product. Iron bisglycinate is a highly absorbable and is quite gentle on the stomach.
If you are experiencing heavy periods and are noticing any signs and symptoms of iron deficiency, getting your iron tested and ensuring that it’s optimal (not normal!) – it would be a great idea to get your ferritin levels tested!
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