Good iron intake can banish fatigue

Many women are plagued with constant fatigue, sluggishness and “brain fog.” Thyroid problems, insomnia or menopause are some possible causes, though iron deficiency may also be at the root of these symptoms. Iron is the mineral used by the body to transport oxygen to muscles and the brain. Iron is also required to make amino acids, hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate attention span.

At the Research Centre for Gender and Health at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, researchers looked into the connection between low iron and constant fatigue. Reviewing health data on almost 30,000 women, they discovered that those who reported having experienced periods of low iron more often also reported constant tiredness. From this review, the researchers concluded that iron deficiency in women decreased general health and wellbeing and increased fatigue.

The same research facility then examined the effectiveness of iron supplements or an iron-rich diet on women who suffer from iron deficiency and fatigue. Using 44 iron-deficient women and 22 controls (women with regular iron status), researchers gave them either a daily iron supplement or put them on a high-iron diet for 12 weeks. Afterwards, iron levels were tested and participants completed a general health and wellbeing questionnaire. Results showed that moving these women to an improved iron status improved mental health and decreased fatigue.

Women need at least 18 mg of iron per day. Good dietary sources of iron include lean beef, beans in tomato sauce, iron-fortified whole grain cereals and cream of wheat. Quality iron supplements are also available at health and nutrition stores.

Sources: Qual Life Res 2000;9(5):491-7; J Am Coll Nutr 2001 Aug;20(4):337-42; Leslie Beck’s Nutrition Encyclopedia by L Beck, Prentice Hall:2001