One key nutrient helps energize us, and it helps carry oxygen throughout our body. While iron supplements may not relieve pain on their own, they have many important life-sustaining benefits.
Most women understand that menstrual cramps hurt. And, they are to a large part unavoidable. Severe, drop-you-to-your-knees cramping and extreme periods may be signs of more serious conditions. If you sufferer unending torment, you need to talk to your doctor. Especially if it is new, but even longterm agony during menses could indicate things from endometriosis to polyps. However, did you know that it is possible your horrible period is accompanied by anemia?
If you have symptoms of anemia, talk to your doctor, it’s a simple test. Treating your iron deficiency may include the use of iron supplements.
Symptoms and Causes of Anemia
There are many causes of Anemia, far beyond just menses. Healthline lists among them peptic ulcer disease and blood loss. Pregnant, nursing, menstruating, and athletic women are all at a risk for decreased iron. Here are some other causes for Iron Deficiency Anemia:
- menstruation, particularly if flow is heavy or prolonged
- peptic ulcer disease
- cancer in the digestive tract
- blood loss from trauma or blood donation
- gastrointestinal bleeding from prolonged use of medications like aspirin and ibuprofen
Anemia is quite common in the United States, almost 5 million people have it. If you are experiencing the following, you may be anemic:
- difficulty concentrating
More symptoms of Anemia include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fast heartbeat
- Cold hands and feet
- Strange cravings, like for dirt or clay
- brittle and spoon-shaped nails or hair loss
- Sores in the corner of the mouth
- A sore tongue
- Severe iron deficiency can cause difficulty in swallowing
5 Reasons You May Need Iron Supplements
It should go without saying, but you should talk to your doctor before starting any supplement, diet or exercise program. However, here are five really good reasons that you should be taking an Iron supplement:
1. You are a woman, even a Wonder Woman
Menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, and regular exercise can all put women at risk of low iron. That pretty much covers much of most women’s lives. So, if you are a woman, you may need to talk to your doctor about your iron levels.
2. Diagnosed Peptic Ulcer Disease
Peptic ulcers are a scourge suffered by all genders. If you have them, you should talk to your doctor about the simple blood tests that can tell you if you need iron supplements.
3. Regular Blood Donation or Loss
Blood loss is blood loss – whether you are donating to help others or you have other reasons for it. If you regularly lose blood – talk to your doctor about it.
4. Taking Iron-Depleting Medications
Prilosec (Omeprazole), is a very commonly taken medication. Many use this acid reducer to improve the quality of their lives, fighting chronic heartburn. It also can reduce iron levels. Some other medications that can affect iron levels are:
- Ulcer medications
- Quinolones, a family of antibiotics (ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and levofloxacin(Levaquin)).
- Tetracycline (Panmycin) ranitidine (Zantac) and
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors for high blood pressure
- Colestipol (Colestid) and cholestyramine (Prevalite) for cholesterol lowering bile acid sequestrants
5. Having ADHD
Surprisingly, studies show that children with ADHD have lower iron levels. Not just that, they have lowered ferritin levels. Ferritin stores iron in your cells for later use. If you or your child have been diagnosed with ADHD, you should consider talking to your doctor about iron levels.
What You Should Know About Iron Supplements
Iron is a mineral that helps red blood cells do their job, by delivering oxygen from your lungs to the cells throughout your body. When the oxygen reaches its destination, iron picks up where it left off and helps the red blood cells carry carbon dioxide waste back to the lungs where it rides the exhaled breath to the outside air. Fortunately, many foods are rich in iron — including pork, ham, chicken, fish, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, lamb, and liver — have high iron content.
And for many women, lack of iron can result in some unpleasant consequences.
For most women, menstruation is the biggest risk factor for anemia. This is especially true if you suffer heavy menstruation and the resulting cramps that pretty much quash any chances of physical activity. Heavy bleeding like I’ve just described can cause a marked iron deficiency that can leave you feeling exhausted and depressed. When we lose blood, we also lose iron — as much as 220 to 250 milligrams per pint.
For women who have heavy periods, this can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, meaning that their bodies are low on healthy red blood cells. Anemia can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, headache, and dizziness. Previous studies have also linked it to decreases in physical performance, cognitive ability, and mood.
What the Studies Found
A group of researchers at a hospital in Finland was seeking ways to help women combat the anemia and hopefully fight these symptoms. They studied 236 women undergoing hysterectomies or receiving IUDs. Both treatments are frequent treatments for controlling heavy periods. And while these treatments did help, the researchers still suspected something else was afoot. They suspected many of the women suffered drastically low levels of iron in their blood — something that could take time to build back up again.
Tests, including red blood cell counts, showed that 27 percent of the women were anemic, and 60 percent were dealing with severe iron deficiencies. In many cases, one year after their treatments, the women’s red blood cell counts returned to normal, non-anemic levels. Unfortunately, for the women who had iron-deficiency anemia, this wasn’t true. Their red blood cell counts sometimes took up to five years for iron-levels to return to normal.
Iron Supplements Mean Good News On The Horizon
But despite this bad news, there was a glimmer of hope: One year after the treatments, the women who were anemic reported that they had much more energy and were having an easier time with physical and sociological functioning.
To the researchers, this suggested that the improved “quality of life” scored had more than a little bit to do with correcting the anemia and not just putting a stop to the heavy bleeding.
These findings led the scientists to believe that iron supplements might fight or even prevent anemia.
Side Effects of Iron Supplements and What You Can Do About Them
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If you and your doctor decide that an Iron supplement is right for you, you may experience side effects. Those side effects can be uncomfortable and are mostly gastrointestinal. There are things that you can do to help with them. While taking iron supplements, it is normal to have darkened bowel movements. This can be disconcerting but isn’t necessarily dangerous. If you are at risk for internal bleeding, however, or have sharp pain, call your doctor immediately.
Gas and gas pain:
For gas, try either activated Charcoal or simethicone or other over the counter gas-relief products. Simethicone breaks up big, pain-causing gas bubbles into smaller, less painful ones. It is considered safe enough for the youngest infants.
Constipation, especially for pregnant women:
If you have constipation from your iron pill then stool softeners, such as Seneca, may help. You should also add more leafy greens and fiber to your diet. If you need something stronger, talk to your doctor.
Nausea and vomiting:
If you experience nausea, you may want to try ginger root for it. Ginger is highly effective in reducing nausea. If you need something stronger, your doctor can help with that.
While iron is necessary, too much iron can even cause cancer, so be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any iron regimen.
There you have it, five very good reasons you may want to talk to your doctor about iron supplements
If you find yourself dealing with the symptoms of anemia, especially if you have any of the risk factors, then do yourself a favor; make an appointment and talk to your doctor.
*Megan Hamilton contributed to this article.