Why are so many of us iron deficient?

WORDS BY SOHANI GOONETILLAKE




To all my fellow girls who choose to lay down for a bit instead of taking that blood test, please get up — but not too soon.

My friends and I bond thanks to many shared experiences at work gossip to dating drama, but another experience I’ve noticed that binds us together is that many of us have varying degrees of iron deficiency severity.

Iron deficiency occurs when the iron intake or iron absorption rate is unable to meet the body’s iron needs. In its most severe form, anemia, red blood cells can no longer carry enough oxygen around the body, resulting in extreme weakness.


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I’ve seen my friends manage their diagnoses in different ways. From swearing every time they forget to take their daily dose of Ferro grad-C, to having to get blood transfusions and unfortunately many ignore it completely.

doctors routinely underestimate women’s health problems and gender stereotypes often mean that women experience unnecessary discomfort and effects† As a result, women often let go of their excessive fatigue and laugh at getting a bruise the size of Tasmania when they accidentally bump into something.

Research suggests that iron deficiency is often overlooked by doctors — and this can have serious consequences for women’s health. What makes this even more concerning is that iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide, affecting approximately 2 billion people worldwide, and it is most common in women.

Having an iron deficiency is literally exhausting to manage, but it’s not just a condition that makes women want to curl up with a piece of red meat and take a nap all day long. The symptoms are extensive and the consequences of leaving it untreated should be taken seriously.

What are the symptoms?

Fatigue, brain fog, poor concentration, feeling cold, dizziness, hair loss, insomnia, shortness of breath, mood swings, and inability to do normal activities or exercise are just some of the symptoms associated with iron deficiency.

This long list of symptoms is enough for Google to tell you that you have three different illnesses and have a week to live. Rather than consult Doctor Google, I thought it best to talk to a health professional about why this condition often affects women and how to treat it.

What causes iron deficiency and why are women more likely to have iron deficiency?

Women need more iron to make up for the amount of iron they lose each month during menstruation. endocrinologist, dr. Sonia Davisontells me that iron deficiency is caused by a number of factors:

  • Heavy menstruation due to pathological causes such as fibroids and adenomyosis
  • Inadequate iron consumption in your diet, especially when there is a low amount of meat, especially red meat
  • Due to a high metabolism and a lot of exercise, you probably burn through your iron stores faster
  • Sometimes it can be due to pathological causes, such as gastritis, celiac disease and esophagitis
  • Occasionally, it may indicate that a tumor is present, such as stomach cancer or colon cancer, which is another reason why iron deficiency should always be properly investigated

How to get a diagnosis?

To diagnose the severity of your iron deficiency, your doctor will order a blood test to check your complete blood count, hemoglobin level, blood iron level, and ferritin level.

How is it treated?

dr. Davison simply refers to treating and restoring iron stores as “filling the gas tank” and explains that it can be done in several ways:

  • Use more iron in your body eating pattern† If you eat plant-based, it is still possible to increase your intake. Lentils, kidney beans, tofu and chickpeas are all high in iron
  • If changing your diet isn’t an option for you, add a vitamin C supplement for better absorption
  • Some need an iron drip

Additional blood tests may then be ordered to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment and to investigate whether there are other underlying causes affecting your iron levels.

If left untreated, iron deficiency can have serious consequences for mental and physical health and affect work productivity. To all my fellow girls who choose to lay down for a bit instead of taking that blood test, please get up — but not too soon. Your mental and physical health is important.

To learn more about why iron is essential to your health, visit here

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