A study undertaken recently has revealed that 4 out of 5 women have battled extreme tiredness and two thirds of women in the UK have experienced more than one episode of exhaustion.
Iron and energy are interlinked
Iron and energy levels are interlinked due to the fact that we need iron to make haemoglobin which is the part of the red blood cell that transports oxygen around the body.
Women have a higher risk of developing an iron deficiency because of blood loss during monthly menstruation however those that avoid red meat in choose a vegetarian diet are also at risk and are likely to already have low iron levels.
Healthiest people are often not getting enough iron from their diet
Dr Hilary Jones says:
'Tiredness is one of the most common problems doctors see in general practice, but by the time people reach their GP they have often been struggling for weeks or months.
'And paradoxically it's often the 'healthiest' people who are not getting their requirements from diet.'
Research has shown that a third of female athletes are deficient in iron and 56% of regular runners and joggers are also suffering from low iron levels. The reason for this, as Dr Jones explains is because:
'Runners lose a lot of iron through foot-strike haemolysis, where red blood cells are ruptured as the foot hits the ground.
Red meat is a good source of readily absorbed iron which means that if it's swapped out of the diet entirely for alternative meat sources such as chicken and fish or vegetarian options iron levels in the body are likely to fall.
Women are eating less red meat
Over the last two years, the intake of red meat by women on average has plummeted by 13% with those falling short of the minimum recommended intake shooting up by 17% over the same period.
Dr Jones says: 'There are some obvious dietary changes, like eating more red meat, which will help improve your iron levels. But for many women, supplements are really the only solution.."
Tiredness is the most common clue to iron deficiency, but other signs include pale skin, having cold hands and feet, shortness of breath, dizziness headache, brittle nails, hair loss, cracks at the sides of the mouth and restless legs syndrome.
If you think you might be lacking in iron, talk to a health professional about supplementing your diet or follow a few of these tips:
Iron and calcium are not friends
The pathway used by the body to absorb iron is also used to absorb calcium and zinc so if you combine iron rich foods with a lot of calcium and zinc they will compete for space through the pathway and will inhibit absorption all-round.
Iron and Vitamin C are friends
Studies have shown that vitamin C increases iron uptake, one such study revealed that 100ml of orange juice which has 40-50mg of ascorbic acid increased iron absorption from a meal by 181%. A second study showed that 70mg of ascorbic acid increased iron absorption by 250%.
Combining meat and vegetables which provide vitamin C, such as peppers, peas, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, will also boost absorption.
Up red meat intake
Red meat is rich is haem-iron which is much more easily absorbed by the body than the iron we get from vegetable sources.
A 100g steak has around 3.2mg of iron and the same amount of raw spinach has 2.7mg — but the haem iron in the steak is up to six times more bioavailable than the non-haem iron in the spinach. However, meat proteins also enhance iron uptake from vegetable sources, so you'll get more iron from spinach if the meal also includes meat.
Go steady with the eggs
Meat and fish proteins improve iron absorption within the body however it has been shown that egg proteins have the opposite effect. While egg yolks provide some degree of iron, studies confirm that one reduces update of iron from other foods by around 27%.
Tannins impair iron uptake
Beverages such as tea and coffee contain a substances called tannins - while they have no effect on haem-iron they are known to inhibit the uptake of non-haem iron obtained from plant sources. Drinking these beverages between meals won't affect iron absorption, just make sure you don't drink too much tea or coffee with your meals.
Drink in moderation
It has been shown by several studies that drinking in moderation actually increases iron stores in the body. A 250ml glass of red wine has around 2.3mg of iron, although it's important to note that it also has tannins in it, which as explained above will reduce absorption. A pint of Guinness provides 0.3mg of iron.
Watch your waistline
Scientists have identified a link between obesity and iron status and they suspect that being overweight increases inflammation, which impairs iron absorption.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.