Are you feeling fatigued, weak, dizzy, sensitive to the cold, or even short of breath? Your period may be to blame – at least in part. All of these symptoms can be a sign of iron deficiency, which is often caused by blood loss, particularly for those with heavy menstrual cycles.
An overview of iron deficiency
Iron deficiency is when you have too little iron in the body. This can lead to a variety of symptoms including:
Sensitivity to the cold
Cold hands and feet
Shortness of breath when doing everyday tasks
Rapid heart rate and palpitations
Pica (craving ice or non-food items)
Pale, washed-out appearance
There are several factors that contribute to low iron levels – poor absorption, a low intake through the diet and even some health conditions can cause low iron. But one common contributor when it comes to women is blood loss through menstruation and childbirth.
There are also conditions that can increase the loss of blood during your period, and even at other times of your cycle. If you are experiencing heavy bleeding and/or bleeding outside of your normal cycle, it’s essential to investigate further. Some conditions that increase blood loss include endometriosis and fibroids.
Every period is different
Whenever we’re discussing menstrual flow and symptoms, it’s important to remember that everyone will experience it differently. Whatever your period looks like when you are at optimal health is what you want to aim for!
Periods can vary in terms of length, flow and other symptoms experienced. The average period lasts from 3-7 days. You may change your pad or tampon every 3 hours, particularly during the first few days, or you may change it every 8 hours if your period is relatively light. However, if you are having to change your pad or tampon every hour or two, you may need to investigate the reasoning behind such heavy losses.
Because periods vary so much, not everyone will become iron deficient simply because of their menstrual cycle. But it does increase the risk, especially if combined with other causes of low iron levels.
How much blood is lost during a period?
The statistics vary, but it’s thought to be as little as 30ml for a light period, around 40ml-60ml for an average period, and up to 1 cup for a heavy period.
This can also depend on how much of your flow is actual blood – one study has found that on average, only 36% of the fluid lost is blood, while the other 64% is made up of other elements including tissue, uterine lining and mucus.
How much iron is lost during a period?
It can depend on how heavy your period is, and how much of your flow is blood. There is around 200-250mg of iron in two cups of blood.
So on average, you could lose anywhere between a few milligrams during a light period and up to 125mg during a moderately heavy period. Someone with extremely heavy periods could lose even more.
Replenishing your iron levels during and after menstruation
Your body is intelligent – it will increase the absorption of iron from your diet during menstruation to make up for the losses. In fact, you may absorb up to 50% more iron during your period compared to the rest of your cycle. But to take advantage of this, you’ll want to ensure you’re getting plenty of iron in on these days.
Dietary sources of iron include:
Green leafy vegetables
Beans and lentils
Nuts and seeds
Foods high in Iron, including red meat, white meat, eggs, green leafy vegetables, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, eggs
The iron in animal-based foods is easier for the body to absorb compared to plant-based foods. If you are avoiding animal products for any reason, it’s best to seek professional advice to ensure you are consuming and absorbing enough iron from your diet.
What about iron supplements to correct deficiency?
If you experience heavy periods, or have other factors affecting your iron intake and absorption, supplements can be a good option. However, not all iron supplements are created equal!
Keep in mind that a high-dose iron supplement doesn’t always make it the best choice. Different forms of iron have different rates of absorption. For example, iron oxide is often available in large doses, but is poorly absorbed and often causes constipation.
The best supplement and dosage depend on your individual circumstances. That’s why it’s always best to seek advice from a qualified practitioner who is properly trained in supplementation.
Book in for a FREE Health Chat with me to find out ways to get your iron levels up.