Iron supplements can be useful for women in child-bearing age, pregnant women, vegetarian and vegan because we are inclined to iron deficiency. It is important to give our bodies the right form of iron, otherwise our body cannot use it.
Today, we will look into iron supplements for women; why is iron important, why we lack it and how to improve our iron level with iron supplements.
Why Iron Supplements are Important for Women
Our body is very efficient when it comes to iron. It can re-use it. So on a daily basis, we lose only a small amount of iron (1-2 mg) and we need to restock it via the diet. For most women diet is sufficient to meet daily iron requirements.
But we are women; we bleed monthly, grow babies, breastfeed, and usually eat less meat than men. So our need of iron can be different, depending on what’s happening with your body.
Women of child-bearing age lose more iron than men because of menstrual cycle and blood loss.
This is why, the recommended daily allowance for iron for adult women is 18 mg per day, whereas it is only 8 mg for adult men.
Pregnant women need iron the most. When growing a baby, your own body needs to produce extra volume of blood. This extra blood is for your growing baby. Because of this rapidly growing blood volume, both yours and your baby’s body need the iron. You need it to make extra blood and your baby to support his or hers growth.
Vegan and vegetarian should pay some attention to iron intakes and be careful to get enough of ferrous iron (see next chapter). Make sure you eat plenty of iron rich foods daily. With each meal, include a good source of vitamin C. Vitamin C boosts iron absorption.
Daily allowance for iron for adult women is 18 mg per day,
whereas it is only 8 mg for adult men.
You might also need more iron, either from dietary sources or from an iron supplement, if you:
- are breastfeeding,
- have kidney failure (especially if you are undergoing dialysis, which can remove iron from the body),
- have any medical condition that can cause blood loss, including surgery,
- have a gastrointestinal disorder that prevents your body from absorbing iron normally,
- take too many antacids, which can prevent your body from absorbing iron,
- work out a lot (intense exercise can destroy red blood cells). (Source: WebMD)
It is Important What Type of Iron You Take
Vegan diets are actually higher in iron than either lacto-ovo vegetarian diets or omnivore diets.
This is because calcium in dairy foods may inhibit iron absorption (Source: Virginia Messina, M.P.H., R.D – The Vegan Sourcebook).
In the case of plant diets, the amount of iron in food is not a problem—there is plenty. The problem is how much gets absorbed.
Let’s talk more about this:
There are two types of iron your body can absorb, and use, so called bio-available iron. Heme is one type and non-heme is the second type of bio-available iron.
Heme iron is found in animal food sources such as meat, seafood, poultry and is much better absorbed into the body (15% – 35%) than non-heme iron.
Non-heme iron is found in plants and iron-fortified foods, and is less bio-available. This is why vegan and vegetarians are prone to be iron deficient.
**If you want to know know about why heme iron is better absorbed than non- heme, let me know in a comment section below and we can talk about it in detail – it has mostly to do with biochemistry and metabolism.
Iron from plant foods is not as well absorbed than is iron from meat.
Further on, plant sourced iron (non-heme), can be in two different forms:
- divalent (Fe2+, ferrous iron) or
- trivalent (Fe3+, ferric iron) form.
Fe3+ needs to be converted into Fe2+ before it can be absorbed into the body.
In short, what you want to remember is that iron from plant foods is less well absorbed than is iron from meat. Vegans and vegetarians should look for ferrous iron supplements, because only ferrous iron form can be absorbed.
Iron Content in Foods and Supplements
Iron is present in lots of foods. Some foods are excellent sources of iron, while other foods are mediocre or poor sources.
The best sources of iron are foods made from blood such as black pudding. Other excellent sources are liver and red meat. In general, the darker the color of the meat, the higher the iron content. For example, steak provides more iron than chicken breast.
Many plant-based foods also contain some amount of iron. This includes all sorts of beans (soybeans, black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, etc.) and various types of grains (oats, wheat, rice, etc.). Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale, are good sources of iron, as well as dried fruits – apricots, raisins and prunes.
For grains, most of the iron is present in the germ and is removed during processing. This is why white rice is a poor source of iron, whereas brown rice is a good source. The same is with white bread which is low in iron, whereas whole wheat bread contains plenty of iron.
Processed, packed foods are low in iron, because most of the iron is removed during processing. This is why some countries add iron to white bread and white flour to restore it to the level found in whole wheat bread and whole wheat flour.
Iron Supplements for Women
Iron is an essential mineral. However, like many other nutrients, it is harmful in high amounts. It’s important to know what type of iron supplement you should take.
Never decide on an iron supplementation without discussing it with your doctor.
You can find iron supplements that are as high as 150 mg per tablet. Adults shouldn’t take any more than 45 mg of iron a day unless they are being treated with iron under close medical supervision (Source: WebMD).
Acute iron poisoning happens when people overdose on iron supplements. Single doses as low as 10–20 mg/kg may cause adverse symptoms. Doses higher than 40 mg/kg require medical attention (Source: NCBI).
Lower iron content in supplements is usually milder
on your stomach and your GI tract.
The RDI for iron in women is 18mg/day. Knowing this, you should go much higher that 18mg/day when looking for the right iron supplement. Iron supplements, even when consumed in normal amounts, may cause upset stomach, stool changes, and constipation.
Look for lower levels of iron content – 4mg per tablet. It is safer, less upsetting for your stomach and you can spread out the dose (for example: 1 tablet, 2-times a day). Always read a supplement facts and follow instructions on the product.
A good iron supplement should have vitamin C as well. Vitamin C helps absorb iron better and it is in manufacturer’s interest to add Vitamin C in their iron supplement. I know this is a poor quality image but this particular iron supplement has added Vitamin C, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 – clearly, they know what a female body needs. Plus, Prohemia is FDA registered, which is never a bad thing.
What I also like to do is to find an iron supplement that is in liquid state, so you can dilute it and have even less intestinal reaction.
Nature’s Nutra Easy Iron for Kids, has the best ratings. Yes, it is for kids but you can easily use it as well. “For Kids” is because it is mild and in liquid state and therefore much easier to sneak in child’s drink.
Things to Remember
Women are prone to iron deficiency and iron supplements are a good, safe option to treat the deficiency.
However, iron can be toxic in high doses so you should always seek professional guidance to decide which iron supplement is best for your needs – visit your doctor. Don’t start taking iron supplements unless your health care provider tells you that you need them.
Opt in for lower levels of iron when choosing your iron supplement. Lower levels of iron are safer, healthier and gives you an advantage to spread the dose out evenly throughout the day.
Aim for 18mg/day of iron intake – this is the recommended daily intake for women in childbearing age.
I hope you found the information that is useful to you. If you have any questions, want to share your experience or just chat on this topic, write a comment below. I’d love to hear your point of view!
Till next time,