×

Iron deficiency in women: Cause, effects and solutions

Luke Coutinho

Luke Coutinho
16 April 2020

This article is authored by Luke Coutinho. Luke is a globally renowned and award winning Holistic Lifestyle Coach in the field of Integrative Medicine.

Eat Breakfast

Iron deficiency is a condition that occurs in humans when the body doesn’t have enough of the mineral, iron. Iron forms as one of the essential components to produce haemoglobin in the human body.

Haemoglobin is a protein molecule that is found in the red blood cells and carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs. When the body doesn’t have enough haemoglobin, the muscles & tissues end up not having enough oxygen, which leads to a condition called anaemia. However, we shouldn’t confuse this with pernicious anaemia, which is caused due to the deficiency of vitamin B12.

In India, iron deficiency in women happens to be fairly common and poses a huge problem. Anaemia and low levels of haemoglobin are some common conditions that affect a huge number of women (pregnant women included) and children. It doesn’t only affect the population below the poverty line but is also quite prevalent in the urban settlement.

Having said this, let’s understand the vital role that iron plays in a woman’s body:

  • Iron makes heme, which forms haemoglobin – a protein molecule found in the RBCs. Apart from facilitating the transportation of oxygen from lungs to body tissues, it also provides an oxygen storage through myoglobin, which is an iron-embodied protein that further stores & transports oxygen within the muscles and releases it to meet the metabolic requirement amid muscle compression;
  • Iron is required by the bone marrow to produce haemoglobin;
  • A number of enzymes in the body are iron-dependent for their functions – primarily those that are responsible for converting food into energy;
  • Iron is responsible for cognitive functions and proliferation of the immune system cells;
  • Iron also supports the enzymes that are involved in the synthesis of collagen and elastic, thereby, taking care of nails, skin, and hair.
  • Iron normalizes as well as regularizes the menstrual cycle in a woman’s body.
  • Iron aids the foetal development in pregnant women; the lack of iron can lead to preterm deliveries or low birthweight infants.
  • Iron also facilitates a healthy conception.

What causes an iron deficiency in a woman’s body?

It’s not always about what you eat, but it’s also about how the food you eat gets digested and absorbed in the body. In fact, women’s bodies are at a much greater risk of developing an iron deficiency since monthly menstruation cycles regularly deplete the iron storage in the body. A few other reasons that can explain an iron deficiency are:

    • Genetics – A number of cases of iron deficiency have been found that are more genetic in nature than anything else.
    • Iron-deficit diet – This is possibly one of the most common reasons. Not eating nutritious and well-balanced meals can lead to an iron deficiency. In fact, regularly consuming junk food can also lead to an iron deficiency in the body.
    • Lifestyle habits– Certain lifestyle habits, such as drinking too much coffee or having tea right after meals, block caffeine absorption, while smoking depletes iron in the body.

  • Malabsorption – It is a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract that can lead to defective digestion and absorption of important nutrients; owing to the same issue, malabsorption can lead to low iron absorption.
  • Body conditions & diseases – Cases of H pylori or parasitic infections can lead to a heavy loss of iron in the body. Additionally, conditions like ulcerative colitis, colon polyps, and uterine fibroids can cause anemia – a severe deficiency of iron in the body.
  • Strong drugs and treatments, such as chemotherapy, also cause iron depletion or loss;
  • A heavy loss of blood during menstrual cycles and in postpartum hemorrhage also lead to a significant deficiency of iron in the body.

What are some of the effects of an iron deficiency in women?

Iron deficiency could result in a plethora of issues in the body of a woman. Some of them are:


● Anaemia

● Severe hair loss and dull/pale skin


Radish

● Low energy levels and mood swings

● Infertility and irregular menstrual cycles

● Miscarriages or death at childbirth; children born with deformities

● Weak immune system (especially also when a cancer treatment is going on)

● Effect on the motor & language skills of a developing foetus in a pregnant woman

● Palpitations

What are some of the solutions using which an iron deficiency could be tackled?

One of the more common ways to deal with an iron deficiency is by including iron-rich foods in your daily meals. The top noted sources of iron are:

1. Moringa – Moringa oleifera is a rich source of iron and has almost three times the amount of iron that is found in the same serving size of spinach.

2. Amla – Also known as the Indian gooseberry, amla is a pretty strong source of iron and can be taken in multiple forms (as a snack or even in a candied form) to combat an iron deficiency.

3. Cumin – Jeera (Cumin seeds) are naturally rich in iron and can be taken in a variety of ways in one’s meals. It can also be brewed with water or taken with tea.

4. Leafy green vegetables - like spinach, broccoli, green peas, celery, etc. are all great sources of iron and can be very easily included in one’s diet. Be it a salad or a green smoothie, including leafy vegetables is fun and simple.


Eat Breakfast

5. Dates and raisins – Studies show that 100 gm of dates contains 4.79 mg of our daily iron requirement. Similarly, raisins are extremely rich in iron with 100 gm of raisins containing 1 mg of iron – this is also funnily double the amount of iron present in the same amount of grapes. This is so because when a grape is dehydrated to produce raisins, its nutrients become more concentrated.

6. Pomegranate – Pomegranates are unarguably one of the best fruits that are available to tackle an iron deficiency. They contain iron, vitamin A, E, and C. The presence of ascorbic acid in pomegranates help pull up the iron content in your body as you regularly start including pomegranates in your diet.

7. Garden Cress Seeds – Halim (Garden cress seeds) are supremely high not only in iron but also in folic acid. Their regular consumption is known to combat anaemia. These seeds could either be roasted or even cooked before consumption.

8. Beets – Beetroots are famous for being rich in iron. Apart from a wide range of other nutrients present, beets also contain vitamin C that helps the absorption of iron. They could be cooked or eaten steamed with a chutney or juiced with other fruits or even as a smoothie.

9. Black Sesame Seeds – These oil-rich seeds are rich sources of iron and aids blood cell formation. They can be soaked, roasted or sprouted and can be added to any dish for flavor and crunch.

10. Mustard Seeds – These seeds are also rich in iron & copper and help in red blood cell formation. Just 1 tbsp of mustard seeds contains six percent of the recommended value of iron. They can be eaten raw or added to soups, stews, and salads.

11. Chickpeas – One cup of chickpeas provide close to 5 mg of iron. And these can be very easily added to salads and pastas. You can also make homemade hummus with olive oil, lemon juice, ginger, and chickpeas and use it as a spread or dip.

While we are talking about the importance of iron in our diet, it’s also essential to see how important copper is for the absorption of iron. To include copper in your diet, you can store water in copper vessels overnight and drink this water the next morning. Similarly, vitamin C also enhances the absorption of iron by capturing the non-heme iron and storing it in the body in a form that’s more easily absorbed by the body. Additionally, oxalates block iron absorption in the body, so oxalate rich foods like spinach, should be steamed or lightly cooked before consumption.

Are iron supplements helpful?

Iron supplements can be helpful only when one finds it difficult to take in enough iron through dietary measures. Stuffing yourself with iron tablets might not help and could even be counterproductive, causing constipation, which is a serious condition for anyone. It could also cause a sluggish liver In the end, it’s about finding the right balance of vitamins and minerals that are needed by the human body to form haemoglobin. As seen in this article, iron could be included in a variety of ways in our diet and combating an iron deficiency isn’t hard when the right steps are taken to cure it. Most forms of iron deficiency can be treated easily with an iron rich diet or supplements, if your doctor recommends them to you.



DISCLAIMER

The views and opinions expressed, and assumptions & analysis presented in this content piece are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Related Products

Diet, exercise and sunlight: Three factors women shouldn’t ignore for good bone health

Dr. Dharini Krishnan

Dr. Dharini Krishnan
11 January 2021

This article is authored by Dr. Dharini Krishnan, an award-winning Consultant Dietitian, she believes that for a healthy body and mind, we must combine modern medicine with native Indian practices which are proven to benefit us.

Barring a significant injury or fracture, we rarely tend to think about bone health. Yet, for women, particularly those who are middle-aged or older, this is a vital concern because of the risk of osteoporosis.

In 2013, it was estimated that there were 50 million Indians who were osteoporotic or having low bone mass. Some studies have found that the prevalence of osteoporosis could be as high as 42.5% in women over the age of 50.

Osteoporosis and health complications

Eat Breakfast

Osteoporosis comes from the Latin for “porous bone”, and is a condition where bone tissue loses its density, and becomes weaker and more fragile. Such bones are easily susceptible to breaks, resulting in pain, disability and loss of functionality in everyday life.

Bones, which form the primary supporting framework of the body, grow from birth till our early twenties, which is the period of peak bone mass. Bone is an active tissue that undergoes regular replacement in conditions of health.

In osteoporosis, however, bone formation is outpaced by bone loss, leading to porosity or thinness of bone tissue and brittle bones. Such bones could easily be fractured even in the absence of significant trauma. Such fractures tend to reduce mobility and lead to increased hospitalization and dependence on others.

Why osteoporosis affects women more

Women are particular at risk for osteoporosis because they have lesser bone mass to start with. The geometry and structure of bone have also been increasingly recognized as important risk factors for fracture.

The risk of osteoporosis significantly rises during menopause because of the hormonal changes women undergo at the time. This is because estrogen plays a significant role in maintaining bone health, and the secretion of this hormone falls drastically during menopause.

The importance of protein and calcium in the diet

Skin Care

For some time now, awareness of the importance of calcium for bone health has been growing. Hence, women are advised to consume sufficient amounts of dairy, green leafy vegetables, soya products and nuts.

What many don’t realise is that sufficient levels of protein are just as important for strong bones. After all, protein makes up roughly 50% of bone volume and about one-third of its mass. Daily intake of protein is also necessary to provide the raw materials for bone formation. Unfortunately, research shows that the levels of dietary protein consumed by Indians are actually reducing.

For non-vegetarians chicken, fish and eggs are good sources of protein. For vegetarians, pulses are one of the primary sources of protein, along with dairy products. Daily intake of protein in at least two major meals of the day, particularly in healthy forms such as sambhar or dal is, therefore, vital.

The role of exercise and sunlight

Eat Breakfast

Bone health also requires good muscle health. This makes it necessary to undertake moderate exercise as often as possible. A 45-minute walk six days a week as well as resistance training using the body weight, such as surya namaskaras, can go a long way to building muscles. Importantly, the body also requires Vitamin D to mobilize calcium for bone health. Hence, exposure to peak sunlight between 11am and 3 pm at least twice a week is also vital for bone health.

Osteoporosis can be a serious health problem that disrupts life and limits mobility, particularly for women. However, a healthy diet, rich in calcium and protein, together with exercise, can go a long way in maintaining bone health.



DISCLAIMER

The views and opinions expressed, and assumptions & analysis presented in this content piece are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

 

Related Products

selling
Tata Sampann

Chana Dal

View details
selling
Tata Sampann

Green Moong

View details
selling
Tata Sampann

Kabuli Chana

View details
selling
Tata Sampann

Kala Chana

View details

loading