In November’s webinar we focused on the topic of iron and the female athlete.
We covered questions such as why are exercising females more susceptible to iron deficiency, what does it mean if you’re a heavy menstrual bleeder, what are the do’s and don’ts of iron absorption and what are the facts behind supplementation? Plus much more!
Below are some of the common questions around iron and the female athlete answered by our webinar panellists and Orreco scientists Dr Georgie Bruinvels and Prof Charlie Pedlar.
What is iron’s role in the body and what are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
Dr Charlie Pedlar: “Iron has a fundamental role in producing red blood cells which are packed with haemoglobin and carry oxygen to the muscles. We have this constant turnover of red blood cells in the body so these cells are always being made.
“As soon as you compromise that process then you’ll start to see symptoms associated with iron deficiency. The further you move along the continuum from iron replete to fully anaemic, you’ll see fatigue, lethargy, headaches and experience more breathlessness. You’ll also need more sleep because it’s all to do with oxygen transport so if the oxygen carrying capacity of your red blood cells is decreased, everything is going to feel harder.”
Are females more susceptible to iron deficiency, and why?
Dr Georgie Bruinvels: “Females are at higher risk of iron deficiency, especially if you’re a heavy menstrual bleeder. If this is the case you should ensure you’re eating enough iron regularly in your diet. It also often affects women who do sports where there’s a degree of impact such as running, basketball, even field hockey where you are loading the ground. We know that impact can cause the breakdown of red blood cells and increase iron losses. Also sweat can cause iron losses as well.”
Which foods contain iron?
Prof Charlie Pedlar: “Consuming iron with vitamin C helps with absorption whereas certain things like tea and coffee can actually compromise the uptake of iron.”
When should you go for a blood test?
Dr Georgie Bruinvels: “If you have a history of heavy menstrual bleeding that warrants you the ability to have a blood test at the doctors to check for your iron status. This also applies if you’ve had a major blood loss in the past. You would ideally want to have this checked over a period of time and build up information of how you vary as an individual.
Should I be taking iron supplements?
Dr Georgie Bruinvels: “I feel keen to emphasise the fact that it shouldn’t be a case of ‘Hey, you’re a runner or you play sports and you sweat a lot and you menstruate, so you should take iron supplements.” There should be a blood test conducted prior to that to ensure you really do need the iron.
“Taking iron when you don’t need it is not ideal as iron is toxic and too much in your system is not something you should be aiming for. It’s all on an individual case scenario and the biggest take home message would be to have a blood test first. I would also say, you’d never do harm optimising your iron dietary intake, so that’s always a good preventative measure.”