Getting your daily recommended amount of vitamins and minerals is key to getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy. So, how does iron affect fertility? To learn all about the importance of iron for fertility, keep on reading our fact sheet. Here’s what we cover:
What is iron and where do you get it from?
Iron is an essential mineral that we need to produce red blood cells. These cells transport oxygen from the lungs around the body. Other important functions of iron include supporting muscle metabolism, promoting growth, cell function, and the synthesis of some hormones.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that women who aren’t pregnant need 18 mg of iron per day (pregnant women need 27 mg). You should be able to get your daily amount of iron from your diet. This mineral is found naturally in a wide variety of foods, including beans, lentils, beef, turkey, liver, and shrimp. It’s also added to some food products (such as fortified grains like bread and cereal) and you can take it as a dietary supplement.
What’s the connection between iron and fertility?
Besides helping our bodies function normally, it turns out that iron is also pretty important for fertility. If you’re trying to conceive, it’s a good idea to check if you have low iron levels. Research has linked iron deficiency to ovulatory infertility, miscarriage, low birth weight, and preterm labor. Iron deficiency can also cause implantation failure, meaning that an egg that has been fertilized by sperm doesn’t attach properly to the womb and you don’t get pregnant.
When we don’t get a sufficient amount of iron, we can’t make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to our body’s tissues, which includes the ovaries and uterus. A reduced oxygen flow can therefore reduce the quality of your eggs. For women who do get pregnant and are iron deficient, the lack of oxygen negatively impacts the baby’s growth in the womb and prevents normal development of the placenta, increasing the risk of miscarriage and preterm birth.
A 2006 study published in the Obstetrics & Gynecology journal found that women who took iron supplements had a significantly (40%) lower risk of ovulatory infertility than women who didn’t take iron supplements.
What happens if you have an iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Not getting enough iron over a longer period of time can lead to a condition known as iron deficiency anemia. Anemia affects ⅓ of people around the world, and about 50% of the time, it’s because of iron deficiency.
If someone is anemic it means that they don’t have enough red blood cells or the hemoglobin in red blood cells isn’t concentrated enough, so there’s a decreased supply of oxygen to the body’s tissues.
Women of reproductive age and pregnant women are at particular risk of having an iron deficiency. Iron is lost through menstrual bleeding, so if you have a heavy flow, it’s important to check your iron stores to take care of your health and fertility.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia
At first, iron deficiency anemia can be very mild and doesn’t cause physical signs. But as it progresses and the body becomes more and more iron deficient, anemia causes the following physical signs:
- Severe fatigue
- Pale skin
- Headache, dizziness, feeling lightheaded
- Chest pain, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
- Brittle nails
- Tongue inflammation
If you notice these symptoms, please be sure to see a doctor. Don’t self-diagnose and take iron supplements on your own, because these symptoms could also be due to a different health condition and having excess iron can have negative effects on your body.
How to increase your iron intake
To up your iron intake, make sure that you are eating a balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods. Vitamin C helps the body better absorb iron, so eat citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, and berries as well.
When you’re trying to conceive, it’s a good idea to take a prenatal vitamin, which typically has your daily needed amount of iron. Prenatal vitamins also contain folic acid, a very important nutrient to support healthy growth of the baby in the first months and prevent anemia.
But be careful not to over-do it with the iron supplements! High-dose iron supplements can lead to stomach problems, including constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. If you eat before taking iron supplements, it can minimize these negative effects.
Science shows us that iron and fertility are closely linked. To reduce your risk of ovulatory infertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy complications, be sure to take a prenatal vitamin containing your daily recommended intake of iron. You can find out if you are iron deficiency and if there is anything else making it harder for you to conceive by testing your fertility with the LEVY Fertility Code. We do a comprehensive, personalized test to check your risk for up to 65 conditions that can impact female fertility and design a custom-made action plan to increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Nutrition During Pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Accessed 04 August 2022.
Foods That Can Affect Fertility. Eat Right by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Accessed 04 August 2022.
Iron – Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed 05 August 2022.
Aneamia. World Health Organization. Accessed 05 August 2022.
Gardner W and Kassebaum N: Global, Regional, and National Prevalence of Anemia and Its Causes in 204 Countries and Territories, 1990-2019. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2020;4(2):830.
Pasricha PhD SR et al.: Iron deficiency. The Lancet Seminar. 2021;397(10270):233-248.
Chavarro JE et al.: Iron intake and risk of ovulatory infertility. Obstet Gynecol. 2006;108(5):1145-52.
Sathiyanarayanan S et al.: A study on significant biochemical changes in the serum of infertile women. Int.J.Curr.Res.Aca.Rev. 2014;2(2):96-115.
Hahn KA et al.: Iron Consumption Is Not Consistently Associated with Fecundability among North American and Danish Pregnancy Planners. The Journal of Nutrition. 2019;149(9):1585-1595.
Iron: Vitamins and minerals. NHS. Accessed 23 August 2022.
Worldwide prevalence of anaemia 1993-2005. WHO Global Database on Anaemia. World Health Organization.
Iron deficiency anemia. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 23 August 2022.
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