Can iron supplements really help women? Well, the answer depends on the circumstances.
In my opinion, women should only take iron supplements if it can be proven that they are deficient in iron.
Iron deficiency in women of childbearing age is common. Anemia caused by long-term iron deficiency can be rather elusive, making it difficult to diagnose because the screening tools used to detect it can be misleading. The most common cause of iron deficiency anemia is blood loss and in this case, females who experience heavier menstrual flows every month are most susceptible.
The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia can vary but usually fatigue, poor exercise tolerance, insomnia, poor concentration, headaches, and agitation are early symptoms that can go undetected. The more advanced signs of iron deficiency, like pale nail beds, rapid heartbeat, and blueness of the inner gums, occur much later.
The early symptoms of iron deficiency may be quite problematic. Women have only a finite amount of iron they can store, so although their iron reserves may be quite depleted, their levels of blood iron and hemoglobin may still be within normal limits. Women can get quite sick from iron deficiency, even if their levels of iron in the blood are considered normal. The storage levels of iron are the key to understanding this disease.
The protein ferritin stores iron to be used in the creation of hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen in red blood cells. Your level of blood ferritin is directly proportional to the amount or iron available to your body and the symptoms of iron deficiency. It is a very accurate and early warning test to show whether or not you’re “running on empty.”
If you experience a heavy flow every month and feel as though you are continually dragging your feet, you may wish to have your blood levels of ferritin checked and monitored. If your blood ferritin levels are low, I recommend taking an iron supplement even if your iron levels are within normal limits.
A new study conducted in Finland has shown that regular screening and the use of iron supplementation improved the quality of life in 236 women experiencing heavy menstrual flow. This study looked at the impact iron deficiency had upon the quality of life of women experiencing heavy monthly bleeding. And trust me, there are not enough of these studies going on. In my opinion, quality of life measurements need to be assessed much more regularly in clinical trials.
What this study found was that 27% of these women were anemic, with 60% of them displaying severe iron deficiency and very low ferritin levels. Of the women who were diagnosed as being anemic, only eight percent were taking an iron supplement.
After receiving iron supplementation for one year, the women who were anemic experienced improvements in energy, social functioning, physical activity, and mood.
But here is the most important aspect of this study: it took five years to restore the iron storage levels back to the normal range in the women who experienced iron deficiency anemia. In other words, the emptier your iron reserves are, the more difficult it becomes to restore them.
I recommend that if you experience heavy monthly periods, consider visiting your health care provider for adequate screening.
Regardless of your age or the circumstances around your iron deficiency, supplements are frequently needed to correct this problem. However, an understanding of the actual cause of the deficiency is also extremely important in some cases. In the case of women over the age of 65, it’s usually attributed to a lack of available iron in the diet or poor absorption of iron from the food you eat.
In my opinion, the best iron supplements available are those bound to a sugar molecule (polysaccharide) or amino acid complex. Follow the recommended dosages and instructions provided by your health care provider. In addition, take 500 milligrams of vitamin C twice per day and consume more foods high in heme iron, like meat and seafood.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Iron supplements improve anemia, quality of life for women with heavy periods,” ScienceDaily web site, June 9, 2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140609093818.htm.
Peuranpaa, P., et al., “Effects of anemia and iron deficiency on quality of life in women with heavy menstrual bleeding,” Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica June 2014; doi: 10.1111/aogs.12394.