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Iron deficiency in menopausal women

The most common deficiency associated with menopause is of the hormone oestrogen, however studies have shown that women going through menopause are also often iron deficient, which can lead to a variety of health issues. Below are some things to consider if you are approaching menopause or going through it.

Iron Requirements Prior to Menopause

Iron deficiencies are common in pre-menopausal women who get their menstrual periods monthly. This is because iron is lost through the blood on regular cycles.

Since post-menopausal women at some point stop having their periods, many do not lose as much iron as they did before over time. However, other processes in the body may still lead to being iron deficient.

Iron Requirements after Menopause

When a woman reaches menopause, lack of iron may lead to many other uncomfortable, embarrassing and even degenerative conditions. Several studies have linked iron to hot flashes, and people with iron deficiencies often report reduced cold tolerance and body temperature regulation.

Osteoporosis is another major concern for some women of menopausal age, and an iron deficiency can affect bone density, which is essential for keeping healthy and strong bones throughout the aging process. Women going through menopause often experience fatigue, and this could also be due to iron deficiency.

The following are some of the most common symptoms in women who have an iron deficiency

  • Poor body-temperature regulation

  • Overall fatigue

  • Hair loss

  • Brittle nails

  • Dull and pale skin

Why Menopause May Lead to Anaemia

Both iron and oestrogen are critical growth nutrients in the development of a woman’s body. While oestrogen is connected with tissue growth and function, iron helps transport oxygen, produce energy, and synthesize DNA.

Women can have an increased menstrual blood flow during the time leading up to menopause and even during menopause, which means that more iron is being released through the blood and leaving the body low on iron. It may take many years for a woman going through menopause to reach the same iron levels as a man her age.

Other medical conditions, such as ulcers, haemorrhoids, celiac disease, or cancer, may also cause iron levels to be low at this time. Another nutrient that menopausal women need to be mindful of losing during this time is vitamin B12. Menopausal woman who are vegan or vegetarian are at a greater risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency.

Iron Rich Foods for Your Diet

Luckily, there are many types of food that are iron-rich and can help menopausal women maintain healthy iron levels. These include:

  • Lean red meat, especially liver

  • Seafood, especially oysters

  • Beans

  • Chickpeas

  • Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale

  • Dried fruits, like apricots and raisins

  • Pumpkin seeds

Iron absorption can be boosted by consuming foods rich in vitamin C (i.e., citrus fruits bell peppers, Guavas, Kale, kiwi etc). On the other hand, iron absorption may be diminished by up to 50%by several chemicals which are contained in certain foods, including tannic acid found in tea and coffee, food additives such as phosphate found in soft drinks, and food preservatives. Iron absorption is also decreased with higher than necessary consumption of other minerals (i.e., zinc, calcium). However, keep in mind that iron absorption depends on the severity of iron depletion, meaning those with iron-deficiencies will absorb more iron than those without iron deficiency.

Supplementation During Menopause

However, sometimes the iron needs of women during menopause are more than what can be obtained from food alone. To make sure you’re not deficient, I recommend checking your blood for Iron and Vitamin B12 and if required take good quality supplements.

Menopause is a huge time of change and transformation for the female body, so make sure to discuss all of your symptoms and concerns with your healthcare professional to find menopause solutions that are right for you.

Iron-deficiency anaemia should be treated with therapeutic doses of supplemental iron. There are two forms of dietary iron, “heme” iron and “non-heme” iron. Heme iron is iron bound to haemoglobin (the oxygen transporting protein in blood); non-heme iron is not bound to haemoglobin. Heme iron is the most efficiently absorbed form of iron. The absorption rate of non-heme iron supplements, such as ferrous sulphate and ferrous fumarate, is 2.9% on an empty stomach and 0.9% with food. This is much less than the absorption rate of heme iron, as found in liver, which is as high as 35%. In addition, heme iron is without the side effects associated with non-heme sources of iron, such as nausea, flatulence, and diarrhoea.

Despite the superiority of heme iron, non-heme iron salts are the most popular iron supplements. One reason is that even though heme-iron is better absorbed, it is easy to take higher quantities of non-heme iron salts so that the net amount of iron absorbed is about equal. In other words, if you take 3 mg of heme iron and 50 mg of non-heme iron, the net absorption for each will be about the same. The best form of non-heme iron is ferrous succinate. Consult a healthcare professional before taking iron supplements.

Ensuring Adequate Iron Reserves

Maintenance of good iron reserves requires emphasis on iron-rich diet. To improve iron intake, follow these tips:

  • Eat lean cuts of beef, pork, and lamb three or four times a week. Liver has higher concentrations of iron.

  • Choose iron-fortified breads and cereals.

  • Don't drink coffee or tea with every meal, particularly if you're prone to anaemia. Substances found in these drinks interfere with iron absorption.

  • Combine vegetarian and animal sources of iron.

  • Eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C to boost absorption.

Frequent monitoring of iron levels in the blood, including biochemical and nutritional analyses, is recommended for everyone, especially vegetarians, in order to prevent iron-deficiency anaemia and to assure optimal health.

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