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Iron deficiency means that you don’t have enough iron in your body. Iron is a mineral present in food that is essential for many bodily functions, including oxygen flow, muscle metabolism, cell function, and hormonal synthesis. Iron deficiency is actually the most common nutritional deficiency around the globe, so you’re not alone!

This article has been verified by a medical professional

Because of menstrual bleeding, women of reproductive age have a higher risk of iron deficiency. If the deficiency continues for too long, it can develop into iron deficiency anemia.

So, how much iron do you need? According to guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, non-pregnant women require 18 mg of iron per day. During pregnancy, the daily need increases to 27 mg.

Impact of iron deficiency on fertility

Iron and fertility are closely linked. A deficiency of this crucial mineral can interfere with ovulation, making it more difficult to conceive. It can also reduce the quality of your eggs (due to decreased oxygen flow to the ovaries) and lead to implantation failure (when a fertilized egg can’t implant in the uterus). During pregnancy, iron deficiency increases the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and preterm birth. Babies born to mothers who are deficient in iron may also have poorer neurodevelopment.

Potential causes of iron deficiency

Possible causes of iron deficiency include:

  • Lack of iron in the diet (vegetarians are more likely to be iron deficient)
  • Heavy menstrual flow
  • Certain medications (such as aspirin)
  • Regular blood donation
  • Chronic conditions that cause bleeding
  • Intensive exercise
  • Inability to absorb or use iron from food (for instance, because of celiac disease or bariatric surgery)

Symptoms of iron deficiency

Being deficient in iron can cause the following symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased productivity
  • Reduced exercise performance
  • Irritability
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia syndrome (a chronic disorder causing body pains and insomnia)

It can also make symptoms of hypothyroidism persist despite treatment.

Diagnosis of iron deficiency

Iron deficiency is diagnosed via blood tests. Ferritin is considered the most sensitive test of the iron stores in the body and is used widely to diagnose iron deficiency. Ferritin is a protein that stores iron, and low levels point to a deficiency.

Transferrin is a protein that transports iron and healthcare providers may measure this as well to diagnose iron deficiency.

Treatment to improve fertility

Iron deficiency is diagnosed via blood tests. Ferritin is considered the most sensitive test of the iron stores in the body and is used widely to diagnose iron deficiency. Ferritin is a protein that stores iron, and low levels point to a deficiency.

Transferrin is a protein that transports iron and healthcare providers may measure this as well to diagnose iron deficiency.

Diagnosis of iron deficiency

Iron deficiency is diagnosed via blood tests. Ferritin is considered the most sensitive test of the iron stores in the body and is used widely to diagnose iron deficiency. Ferritin is a protein that stores iron, and low levels point to a deficiency.

Transferrin is a protein that transports iron and healthcare providers may measure this as well to diagnose iron deficiency.

Treatment to improve fertility

Luckily, you can correct an iron deficiency through simple supplementation to improve health and symptoms and boost fertility. Talk with your doctor about finding a good prenatal vitamin that contains the right amount of iron and folic acid. These 2 nutrients are vital to supporting the healthy growth of a baby in the womb and preventing anemia.

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. 

Additionally, you can increase your iron stores by eating these foods:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Liver
  • Shrimp
  • Fortified grains like bread and cereal

Vitamin C increases iron absorption in the body, so be sure to also eat plenty of foods rich in this vitamin, such as:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Berries

Check your iron levels again 2-3 months after starting supplementation. If they haven’t improved, you may be referred to a specialist such as a gastroenterologist or a gynecologist to further look into what’s behind your iron deficiency.

This article has been verified by a medical professional

  1. Nutrition During Pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Accessed 04 August 2022.
  2. Foods That Can Affect Fertility. Eat Right by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Accessed 04 August 2022. 
  3. Iron – Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed 05 August 2022.
  4. Aneamia. World Health Organization. Accessed 05 August 2022.
  5. 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. 
  6. Pasricha PhD SR et al.: Iron deficiency. The Lancet Seminar. 2021;397(10270):233-248. 
  7. Chavarro JE et al.: Iron intake and risk of ovulatory infertility. Obstet Gynecol. 2006;108(5):1145-52. 
  8. 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. 
  9. 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. 
  10. Iron: Vitamins and minerals. NHS. Accessed 23 August 2022.
  11. Worldwide prevalence of anaemia 1993-2005. WHO Global Database on Anaemia. World Health Organization.
  12. Iron deficiency anemia. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 23 August 2022.
  13. Iron and iron deficiency. BetterHealth from the Victoria State Government. Accessed 24 November 2022.
  14. Balendran, S: Non-anaemic iron deficiency. Aust Prescr. 2021;44(6):193-196.
  15. Iron-Deficiency Anemia. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 29 December 2022.
  16. Camaschella C.: Iron deficiency: new insights into diagnosis and treatment. Hematology Am Soc Hematol Educ Program. 2015;2015(1):8-13.
  17. Short MW, LTC and Domagalski JE, MAJ: Iron Deficiency Anemia: Evaluation and Management. Am Fam Physician. 2013;87(2):98-104. 

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