Iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia, is a condition common to women of childbearing age. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, shortness of breath and decreased immunity. A woman’s risk for anemia can increase during pregnancy, from vigorous exercise, or if the woman is on a low-calorie or vegetarian diet.
The Research Centre for Gender and Health at the University of Newcastle in Australia found that iron supplementation for iron-deficient women can improve mental health and decrease fatigue. In this 12-week randomized study, researchers compared the results of either an iron supplement or an iron-rich diet on 44 iron-deficient women, ages 18 to 50. The women were given blood tests and questionnaires before and after the trial, as well as six months later. Both the iron supplement and iron-rich diet groups showed improvement in mental health and vitality.
Iron supplementation may also help increase endurance and decrease muscle fatigue from exercise, noted researchers at the State University of New York. In their double-blind study, 20 iron-deficient young women were given either an iron supplement or a placebo for six weeks and asked to perform physical endurance tests. The researchers found that the iron group were better able to perform the tests—15% better than placebo at the midpoint of the test and 27% better at completion of the test.
Iron-rich foods include meats such as beef, fish and poultry. Plant sources of iron include legumes, dried fruits, nuts and seeds. Folic acid, vitamin B-12 and vitamin C help increase absorption of iron and combat anemia. A variety of organic iron supplements, which are non-constipating, are available in health food and nutrition stores.
Sources: J Am Coll Nutr 2001 Aug;20(4);337-42; Am J Clin Nutr 2003 Feb;77(2):441-8