Updated: May 25
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Could your fatigue, brain fog or need for caffeine be from stress or stem from an iron deficiency?
Because we menstruate, we lose blood monthly, which takes vitamins and minerals out of our body. Iron included.
I can't be the only one who craves a burger a few days into her period!
Iron deficiency, or even getting to anemia status, is when your body isn't producing enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen through your body. Which can lead to symptoms like fatigue.
Low iron is also one of the most common nutrient deficiencies. Keep reading to learn what kind of women are more susceptible to iron deficiency, common symptoms, foods to eat, and how to get your levels checked.
Which women are more susceptible to iron deficiency?
Some women are more susceptible to iron deficiency than others. They include:
1. Women who have heavy periods
If you have a heavy period, you're dispensing more blood and taking iron with it.
2. Female athletes or those really into fitness
As an athlete, your body works hard to move oxygen throughout your body and it can be hard to keep up with your training.
When I was in high school, I started running more frequently and quickly became anemic. My doctor prescribed iron supplements (the worst constipation I've ever felt! Stay with me, I'll show you how to gently get what you need).
Eating an iron rich diet is important for all of us! Vegetarians may find they have a harder time receiving adequate amounts of iron when they give up eating meat and eggs.
4. Pregnant women
Your body is working harder to move blood through your system to benefit you and your growing baby. Many women find they become iron deficient during their pregnancy and may need to supplement for additional support (always check with your doctor before supplementing).
5. Food sensitivities
If you have food sensitivities like celiac or are sensitive to gluten, dairy, soy, etc., this can inhibit your body from being able to fully absorb the iron you eat. So you may very well be eating enough iron, your body just isn't fully absorbing it.
Remember - your body is more than what you eat, it's what you absorb that counts.
What are the signs your body could be low in iron?
3. Cravings for weird things like ice or dirt
4. Pale skin
5. Brittle nails
6. Cold hands and feet
7. Hair loss
8. Chest pain
9. Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
10. Poor appetite
Should you get your iron levels checked?
If you've been feeling any of these symptoms and suspect you could be low in iron, then you should get your levels tested!
I love using Let's Get Checked to monitor my hormone and vitamin levels. It's a quick and easy way to stay on top of it without having to leave your house!
What foods can you eat to naturally increase iron?
Eating a diet full of iron rich foods can help restore your energy levels and lower your symptoms. Fill your plate with:
1. Red Meat
4. Organ meats
5. Legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas
6. Pumpkin Seeds
10. Dark chocolate (yessss!)
How is iron best absorbed?
Some foods can enhance the absorption of iron, while others can get in the way.
1. Iron is more easily absorbed when eaten with vitamin C
You can often feel bloated after eating iron rich meals or taking a supplement that is not partnered with vitamin C.
So maybe you make a steak stir fry for dinner. Add broccoli and red bell peppers which are high in vitamin C so you better absorb the iron. Or snack on an orange and a few pieces of dark chocolate (odd combo but it works!).
2. Foods that can inhibit your body from absorbing iron include calcium rich foods (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.), coffee and tea, and walnuts.
This doesn't mean don't eat these foods or drink your tea! It just means if you're going to eat a steak for high iron, don't partner it with a cheese appetizer.
Or if you're use to eating a chicken salad at lunch with spinach and pumpkin seeds, don't sip tea with it. Wait an hour and have your tea time then.
My Story with Iron Deficiency
When I was in high school I became anemic because my running schedule had increased dramatically. This was my first taste of what low iron felt like! I was still able to be an athlete, but my doctor did prescribe an iron supplement, which I stopped taking when I was in college.
So if you've been increasing your fitness efforts, be mindful of your vitamin levels.
Most recently, when I got home from my honeymoon in May 2019, I had this fatigue I just couldn't shake. To prep for my wedding, I ate a vegetarian diet for two months and suspected my iron levels might be too low, along with my B vitamins. Because my activity level is high and I do have quite a few food sensitivities, my body was not absorbing enough iron, even eating it from plant based sources.
Three months after returning to eating animal protein, I still felt tired at parts of my cycle that I didn't use to. So I took the iron deficiency test from Let's Get Checked. On a range of 6.6 - 26 umol/L my levels were 13.5 which is in the normal range.
I'm still focusing on eating more iron rich foods and pairing them with vitamin C. To help my body along, I am taking an iron supplement with vitamin C and ginger for gentle digestion, which has made me feel 10x better! I view supplements as a way to support my body for a short period of time. And you do not want to supplement with iron unless you really need to (knowing your levels will help you determine this). I will discontinue this in a few weeks.
Now you're well versed with iron! If you still suspect burnout, learning how to manage your body's stress response can help you avoid it in the future.
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