- A significant 40% of young girls and women in the United States are battling iron deficiency, possibly due to menstrual cycles and dietary factors. This condition can lead to sleep disturbances, cognitive impairments, mood swings, and lower energy levels.
- Iron intake is crucial for creating red blood cells, and iron deficiency can be revealed through a simple blood test that measures ferritin. Supplemental iron intake can therefore be beneficial.
- Females who follow vegan or vegetarian diets can improve their iron levels by including various fruits, vegetables, and nuts that contain non-heme iron in their meals.
- Dr. Deepika Darbari, a hematologist at the Children’s National in Washington, D.C., suggests incorporating diverse beans, various green leafy vegetables, and tofu into diet not only helps to combat iron deficiency but also promotes overall nutritional health.
- Individuals noticing symptoms such as regular fatigue, shortness of breath, or unusual non-food cravings should consider getting a blood test to check their iron levels, as these can be signs of iron deficiency.
Recent data suggests a worrying trend among young women and girls, where a significant 40% are reportedly iron deficient. This could potentially be attributed to menstrual cycles, according to a detailed American study.
Heavy menstrual bleeding is identified as a key risk factor contributing to iron deficiency, an area that often overlooks the integral role of iron.
Why Is Iron Vital?
Dr. Angela Weyand, a seasoned pediatrician at the prestigious University of Michigan Medical School, emphasizes the multiple roles iron plays in our bodies apart from its function in creating red blood cells. Iron deficiency can lead to far-reaching implications such as sleep disturbances, cognitive impairments, mood swings, and lower energy levels.
Navigating Iron Intake Amid Menstruation and Dietary Habits
Alongside blood loss due to menstruation, dietary factors might also be coming into play, especially for young women following vegetarian or vegan diets.
Dr. Weyand pointed out that U.S dietary iron intake appears to have dwindled over recent years. Although meats like poultry, fish, and red meat are rich in easily absorbable heme iron, an array of fruits, vegetables, and nuts contain substantial amounts of non-heme iron.
The Investigation into Iron Deficiency
In the study undertaken, Dr. Weyand and her team analyzed iron status data of roughly 3,500 females aged between 12 and 21, collected in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The researchers discovered that almost 40% of the subjects were iron deficient, with 6.3% suffering from anemia, an implication of insufficient iron in the body.
Dr. Weyand mentions a diagnostic tool to detect iron deficiency- a simple blood test that measures ferritin, an indicator of iron storage in the body. This method can reveal whether you could benefit from supplemental iron intake, an ingredient incorporated in many multivitamins.
Insights and Recommendations from Hematologist Dr. Deepika Darbari
At the Children’s National in Washington, D.C., hematologist Dr. Deepika Darbari frequently deals with anemic children who may not consume adequate iron or may be losing blood. In females, blood loss can be traced back to menstruation. Coupled with dietary influences, this results in elevated iron deficiency or anemia rates in this demographic, Darbari noted.
Also, certain chronic diseases might hinder the body’s ability to absorb or utilize iron. However, you can address lowered iron levels by adapting your diet or taking iron supplements alongside iron-rich food, she suggested.
For those struggling to ingest or utilize iron effectively, Darbari stated that they could opt for an intravenous iron infusion as a workaround.
Signals of Potential Iron Deficiency
Regular fatigue, shortness of breath, or unusual non-food cravings could suggest iron deficiency. The most reliable way to determine if you’re iron deficient is through a blood test.
An optimal defense against iron deficiency is maintaining a healthy diet rich in iron and other nutrients. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, try incorporating diverse beans, various green leafy vegetables, and tofu to ensure you receive adequate iron, advises Dr. Darbari.
If you experience heavy periods, consider discussing a blood test for iron levels with your pediatrician. Even with dietary changes, you might require supplements to secure a sufficient iron intake, she concluded.
More about iron deficiency anemia and possible treatments can be found at the American Society of Hematology.
Sources: Dr. Angela Weyand, MD, pediatrician, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor; Dr. Deepika Darbari, MD, hematologist, Children’s National, Washington, D.C.