The Link: Period-Havers and Iron Deficiency

Feeling tired? Have you ever thought about your iron levels? As period-havers, it's actually possible for us to suffer from iron deficiency. While menstrual blood loss is highly variable, it can range from 10 to 250 mL (4-100 mg of iron) per period. If you do sense unusual levels of tiredness (one of the symptoms of iron deficiency), you should make an appointment with your GP, in person or over the phone.

I've been working with the lovely Kate at @korewellbeing. Kate is a talented naturopath who is passionate about getting to the root cause of symptoms. I've suffered a long time from fatigue, dizziness, bloating and various other mild lifestyle debilitators. I'm passively well but I'm not totally thriving. So, you might be thinking - that's pretty good or good enough? And yes, I'm absolutely grateful for my current health but I believe it's everybody's birthright to deserve true wellness.

Below you can see a snippet of our session notes highlighting iron deficiency. She's actually offering 'Pay What You Can' sessions (virtually) if you're interested in seeing a naturopath!


Iron requirements for women are around 80% higher than for men because of menstruation and child bearing.  More than half of all women consume less than the recommended 10- 15 mg daily. Those most likely to develop iron deficiency include:

  • Pregnant women 

  • Women with heavy periods 

  • People with low gastric acid levels

  • Frequent dieters 

  • Children 

  • People who cannot afford good food

Iron deficiency

Iron is stored in the body in places other than the red blood cells.  These include the liver, bone marrow, spleen and muscles. A true test for anaemia will test if there is a depletion of iron in the red blood cells (the haemoglobin level), and in the organ stores elsewhere in the body (the ferritin level). Iron deficiency causes the symptoms described below and should respond to a low dose iron supplement.  Iron should not be taken unnecessarily as it will accumulate in the body and may become toxic.  If symptoms do not respond, seek advice and ask for a blood test.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide. Three levels of iron deficiency are usually identified, these being (from least to most severe):

  • Storage iron depletion

  • Early functional iron deficiency

  • Iron deficiency anaemia

Symptoms of low iron levels

  • Fatigue

  • Rapid heart rate or palpitations 

  • Rapid breathing on exertion

  • Impaired athletic performance and physical work capacity 

  • Impaired ability to maintain a normal body temperature

  • Brittle and spoon-shaped nails

  • Sores at the corners of the mouth, taste bud atrophy, and a sore tongue. 

  • Pica - a behavioural disturbance characterised by the craving or consumption of non-food items (ice, dirt, paint, laundry starch)

Reading iron tests

  • Transferrin – the specialised iron taxi in the body that reflects your ‘Iron Hunger’

  • Transferrin Saturation (%) – the number of ‘bums on seats’ in these iron taxis, reflecting your ‘Tissue Delivery of Iron’

  • Ferritin – stored iron, reflecting the amount of ‘Iron at the Depot Awaiting Taxis’

Improving iron absorption

  • Apart from increasing the intake of iron-rich foods, there are a number of other ways to increase iron levels;

  • Eat Vitamin C rich foods with foods high in iron

  • Add acidic dressings, such as lemon and vinegar, to iron rich foods 

  • Eat bitter green vegetables or fruit before or during the meal to increase the flow of gastric acid, which will in turn improve absorption of minerals.  Alcoholic aperitifs, grapefruit, and bitter green vegetables can all be used.  

  • Avoid tea (especially black tea) and coffee until the iron deficiency improves.  The tannin in tea binds with iron making it difficult to absorb. Coffee also reduces absorption, especially if taken after a meal. Don’t take iron tablets with tea or coffee.

Sources of Iron – Recommended Daily Allowance 10 – 15 mg / day (30mg in pregnancy)

Animal Sources | mg/ 100g

  • Eggs | 2.0

  • Lean beef | 3.4

  • Lean lamb | 2.7

  • Lean pork | 1.3

  • Chicken | 1.9

  • Cod | 0.4

  • Sardines | 2.4

  • Mussels | 7.7

  • Oysters | 6.0

Grains | mg/ 100g

  • Wheat germ | 10.0

  • Wheat bran | 12.9

  • Raw oatmeal | 4.1

  • Soya flour | 9.1

  • White bread | 1.7

  • Brown bread | 2.5

  • Rye biscuits | 3.7

Beans and Vegetables | mg/ 100g

  • Haricot beans | 2.5

  • Broccoli tops | 1.0

  • Leeks | 2.0

  • Lentils | 2.4

  • Lettuce | 0.9

  • Mushrooms | 1.0

  • Spring onions | 1.2

  • Parsley. Raw | 8.0

  • Peas | 1.2

  • Spinach | 3.4

Fruits | mg/ 100g

  • Apricots  fresh | 0.4

  • Apricots dried | 4.1

  • Avocado | 1.5

  • Currants | 1.8

  • Figs, dried | 4.2

  • Dates | 1.6

  • Peaches, dried | 6.8

  • Prunes | 8.0

  • Raisins | 1.6

  • Raspberries | 1.2

Nuts and Seeds | mg/ 100g

  • Almonds | 4.2

  • Brazil nuts | 2.9

  • Hazelnuts | 1.1

  • Peanuts | 2.0

  • Walnuts | 2.4