Feeling tired, lethargic, or just not at your best? You could be one of the 3.3 million women in the US who have iron-deficiency anemia. In fact, iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiencies in the country! Read more to learn about the signs of iron deficiency and why they are crucial for women to pay attention to.
What is iron and why is it important?
Iron is essential to our survival. Iron is the key component of hemoglobin, which allows red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. It also plays a major role in cell growth and differentiation, and the development of new cells, hormones, neurotransmitters, and amino acids. Yes, iron is one precious little mineral!
Symptoms of iron deficiency:
- Decreased physical performance
- Decreased mental performance
- Decreased immune function
Why is iron especially important for women?
Younger, pre-menopausal women, particularly those who exercise regularly, are at a higher risk for developing iron deficiency and eventually becoming anemic. On average, the adult male has about 1,000 mg of stored iron (enough for three years), whereas women have only about 300 mg (enough for six months). Menstruating women in particular deplete these low stores quickly because of blood loss from their monthly cycle. Women with heavy periods therefore are at a higher risk for having low iron levels. Fun fact: oral contraceptives reduce the amount of blood (and iron) loss while intrauterine devices (IUDs) tend to increase menstrual bleeding. Who would have thought your birth control might actually be affecting your iron status?
Just when you thought you were in the clear, if you’re also an athlete you have an even higher risk of being iron deficient. Athletes deplete their iron stores through their sweat, destruction of red blood cells, and gastrointestinal bleeding (associated with frequent use of anti-inflammatory medications). Pregnancy and breastfeeding also increase your body’s demand for iron and can lead to low levels.
What are good sources of iron?
Your body is unable to make iron; the only way your body gets iron is by consuming it through the food you eat or by taking a supplement if you need to. Dietary iron comes in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Non-heme iron is less biologically available than heme-iron. In other words, it is harder for your body to digest and absorb this form of the mineral. Consuming sources of heme iron, like meat, fish and poultry, on a regular basis is an easy way for most people to maintain their iron levels.
Non-heme iron is more difficult to digest and is found in leafy greens, beans and fortified foods. These foods, while healthy in other ways, are difficult for your body to extract iron from. But before you start chucking vegetables, here’s the good news: consuming vitamin C with your non-heme iron actually helps your body absorb this important nutrient. Next time you eat spinach, try throwing some lemon juice (or another source of vitamin C) in with your salad as a dressing! A delicious and nutritious way to get your iron!
How can I check my iron status?
There’s really only one way to tell if your iron levels are suboptimal: get your blood tested! InsideTracker’s Fitness and Performance Plans measure two iron-related markers: hemoglobin and ferritin. Our new Ultimate Plan adds four more iron-related markers to give users a systemic view of this essential nutrient.
Here are the iron biomarkers measured in the Ultimate Plan:
- Hemoglobin – a protein that uses iron to help carry oxygen throughout the blood Ferritin – measures the stored iron in your blood
- Serum Iron – the amount of iron in the blood
- Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC) – measures the maximum amount of iron your blood can carry, and is an indirect measure of transferrin, which transports iron to various tissues and prevents iron from causing damage in the body
- Unsaturated Iron Binding Capacity (UIBC) – TIBC minus serum iron Transferrin Saturation (also called Iron Saturation) minus Serum Iron divided by TIBC and then multiplied by 100. It shows how much iron in the blood is bound by transferrin
Based on your biomarkers, InsideTracker will calculate the amount of iron you need based on your age, gender, ethnicity, and athletic activity. We’ll even give you nutrition recommendations to help you reach your optimal nutrition status!
Wondering what ALL of your biomarkers mean? We've created this handy biomarker guide for reference—it's FREE & it's yours to download!
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