Heavy training and endurance sports help women’s bodies in more ways than one. But if you have low iron levels, intense athletic activity may be to blame. For women, exercise and iron consumption are key in sustaining health, but understanding the risks and taking preventative measures can help you understand the additional actions you need to incorporate into your daily routine.
Iron is an essential nutrient that’s key for physical growth, neurological function, and even cellular function. It also happens to be the most common mineral deficiency in the world. Without sufficient iron, the body cannot produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to our organs and cells. Oxygen delivery is required for optimal brain function, energy, and immunity.
Women have a higher risk of developing iron deficiency due to two main reasons: menstruation and pregnancy. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein, that transfers the oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. As women menstruate, they lose some of that iron-rich blood. For pregnant women, iron deficiency often occurs because their iron stores are working double time serving their own increased blood volume, as well as being the source of hemoglobin for the growing baby.
The body regulates iron mainly in the GI tract through absorption, generally able to establish iron stores. However, the capacity of this depends on the iron intake, the rate of red blood cell production, the type of iron and the presence of inhibitors in the diet.
But as women exercise, their iron stores can deplete faster than men’s and less-physically active people. Sweat, urine, the GI tract, and menstruation, put women at a higher risk to lose iron at a higher rate. Stress from exercise, especially high endurance exercises like running, is also a significant factor. However, dietary choices are the leading cause of iron deficiency.
Choosing iron-rich foods and foods containing vitamin C that enhance iron absorption, will be key in making sure women can prevent iron-deficient anemia, tiredness, breathlessness, and lack of ability to concentrate.
Iron and Vitamin C Rich Foods Include:
- Leafy greens
- Red meat
- And other iron-fortified foods
However, if you have moderate to severe deficiency that has progressed to anemia, you may need to take supplemental iron. When we learn one of our patients has an iron deficiency, we are cautious with a recommended supplementation plan. As with any deficiency or health problem, getting to the root cause of the issue is vital to restoring health; and in this case, the iron deficiency could be a result of a bacterial infection. So it’s important that possibility is first ruled out, or supplementing with iron could further complicate the infection.
At in2GREAT, we take care of our patients from the ground up, empowering you to take ownership of your health journey. When it comes to treating things such as anemia, iron-deficiencies or other issues that women can be especially at-risk to, our team can determine the best approach for your individualized path to wellness. Contact us today to learn more.