IRON is a four letter word!

I will preface this blog by saying, whatever your choices may be in regards to this topic, please consult your doctor first. 

It hasn’t been that long since I started this blog, however, I’ve noticed a consistent topic amongst other female bloggers out there and that is, the lack of energy or extreme tiredness they are experiencing while maintaining an active lifestyle.

Which leads me to my next topic – IRON

I have struggled with my iron levels for many years.  For me, iron is a four letter word that causes me (at times) grief.  Although I’ve not been diagnosed as anemic, my iron has been low enough that I’ve experienced tiredness, short breath, lack of concentration and motivation, and headaches.  Low iron can contribute to some of the above symptoms.

What is Iron?

Most iron is found in blood in the form of hemoglobin. Iron in hemoglobin is found in red blood cells and helps carry oxygen through the body.  Anemia or low iron can set in when the body lacks iron stores, resulting in lack of energy.

Who suffers from low iron?

As a female and a runner, iron is lost through exercise and as well, monthly blood loss.  If you are a female, and have recently begun a more active lifestyle, and are feeling a lot more tired than usual, it’s likely you may be suffering from a lower iron level than your pre-exercise life.

How is Iron defined?

There are two types of iron.  One is called heme iron, and the other is called non-heme iron.  This is important to know as heme iron is absorbed at about 10-35% whereas the non-heme iron absorption rate is only at 2-20%.

Where can I find more iron?

Heme iron is found in animal meat such as red meat (both heme and non-heme) and fish.  Sources include (but not limited to) oysters, steak, chicken, fish, clams, liver and sardines.

Non-Heme iron is found in a lot of plant-based foods.  Examples are (but not limited to) cereals fortified with iron, quinoa, lentils, beans, broccoli, chickpeas and tofu.

The most difficult aspect of iron is it’s absorption rate and it’s a slow process to ingest enough iron in the body to build up enough iron stores for adequate iron levels, and to continue these levels while training for your next race.

Here are a few tips for you to get your iron levels up:

  • During intake of iron filled foods, also eat a food and/or juice with a high vitamin C content.  Vitamin C helps absorb iron.
  • Combine both heme and non-heme iron when eating, as heme iron can help the absorption rate of non-heme foods.
  • Avoid coffee and tea while eating iron rich foods as they can decrease the absorption rate of iron.

Before I knew a lot about iron, and how to manage it, my first doctor wrote me up a prescription for an iron pill.  (i.e. ferrous sulfate)  Of course, I did what most would do…take it as prescribed.  Let me say, I was miserable.  Iron medication can make you constipated.  There’s no gentle way to say it.  It IS what it is.   I tolerated the meds for a few weeks and then abandoned them.  I simply could not live my life feeling bloated and icky all the time.  After this, I concentrated on eating more iron rich foods.

On my next visit to my doctor’s office, I was introduced to another doctor who was filling in for my regular one.  My results indicated I had increased my iron levels up over the months, however, they were still considered low.  I told her how I could not possibly take the iron pill as prescribed, and she gave me a better suggestion, which were Pre-Natal ‘One-A-Day’ vitamin pills.  She explained to me, that a pre-natal pill has a higher amount of iron than the regular One-A-Day pill.  It turned out to be a much better alternative for me as I was already taking a multi-vitamin on a daily basis.  There are a few differences between the two in terms of essential vitamins and minerals, but they are minimal in regards to my needs.

Do you suffer from low iron?  What choices have you made in your life to improve your iron levels?

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9 thoughts on “IRON is a four letter word!

    • I knew I forgot to add something and there it is! It was in my thoughts when writing this blog and it completely slipped my mind! Yes, cooking with an iron skillet IS a great and easy way to get iron levels up! And may I add, a good work out…those things are heavy! 😉

  1. Oh dear yes! Iron levels are regularly discussed un my household. both my daughter and I cannot hold our levels…we only supplement when we need to…especially when we feel our energy levels waning because we eat very very well.

    • Yes, I too prefer the tried and true, eat well method. I never had a problem with my iron level til my mid thirties. (that I know of anyway) although I do believe everyone absorbs iron differently. Meaning, two people on the same diet and exercise plan may have very different iron levels. Our DNA plays a very important role.

      • Completely agree – health is sooo rarely a one size fits all My daughter and I are even very different lisa she started getting low readings from 7yomy and fluctuates regardless of interventions

  2. This is a great article! I have always been anemic and recently (last 11 months) my iron levels have been so low that they didn’t even want me to walk out of the doctors office (4.8 low!)! I was so tired I could barely think. I couldn’t run, had to drop out of my marathon, and did little more than lift some free weights and walk on a treadmill for exercise. Then I started experiencing shortness of breath which sent me to the emergency room. I have been through a slew of tests and the reason for my normally low iron levels being deathly low, are still a mystery. Now I get iron infusions once a week for 2 weeks, every 4 months as well as a B12 shot! I still experience fatigue and shortness of breath on occasion but nothing like before. I am back running again and just completed my marathon training run today! Sep 30th is race day and I am more than excited!

    This is definitely a subject that more women should be aware of! Usually they relate the lack of energy to stress, but a lot of times it’s iron levels! Thank you for talking about this! I hope it helps someone out there! 🙂

    • Thank you so very much for sharing your experience. I am so glad you were diagnosed properly and are now on the path to a healthier life. I agree, it seems to be a topic not every women is aware of. I myself had no idea until I was in my thirties. It seems to effect more women than perhaps is statistically reported. All the best with your marathon. Happy Running!

  3. I have always had a problem with my iron levels or at least since they first really checked, when I was about 10. I’m not anemic, just borderline. I’ve tried the “eat better” approach, but I can’t stand the taste of red meat and every other combination I tried just didn’t do it. Even the low dose iron pill didn’t get my iron levels up high enough. Finally I accepted the more serious supplement. Though I have to say, I guess I’m lucky, I have no problems with it. It doesn’t constipate me or irritate my stomach. It does increase my iron levels, but that doesn’t seem to make me any more energetic. Bah, all this to say – yes IRON is definitely a four letter word to me.

    Another interaction worth noting – calcium. Calcium inhibits iron absorption much the same way caffeine does. Which is seriously annoying because most mulit-vitamins designed for women have both high levels of calcium and iron. I was taking the multi-vtiamin mainly for the iron and the calcium made it useless =( I should note too that I’m tall with small bones so I also need to take calcium. I just need to take them at least 4 hours apart. Talk about frustrating!

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