We all know that iron is an important mineral for our bodies. But how does it affect fertility? Rachel Hazlett your Women’s Nutrition Dietitian in Brisbane details the answers below.
What is Iron and how does it affect fertility?
Iron is a key component of haemoglobin, a blood protein that carries oxygen around the body. This is an important process for providing the body’s cells with the energy they need to carry out their normal functions. Iron is also useful for helping remove carbon dioxide.
Iron deficiency can be harmful for both the mother and infant. Consequences of inadequate iron stores within the body can lead to infant’s being born with a low birth weight and experiencing developmental delays such as impairment to their mental and motor function.
Iron deficiency can also potentially lead to infertility, however more research into the mechanisms behind this needs to be conducted.
In the general population iron deficiency is more common among women compared to men and it is even more prevalent during pregnancy.
Why is iron deficiency more common during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, women experience an increase in red blood cell mass by up to 18%, as well as a 30% increase in haemoglobin mass. Because iron is an important component of haemoglobin, these elevated haemoglobin levels also require an increase in iron intake.
What are the different types of iron and where can I find them?
- Haem iron is most commonly found in animal products and is well-absorbed by the body.
- Sources: red meat, chicken and poultry, tuna/seafood
- Non-haem iron is found in plant products and is not as well absorbed by the body as haem iron.
- Sources: tofu, Bok choy, baked beans, pinto beans, parsley
Recommendations and supplements
It is recommended to make sure you are getting enough iron before you start trying to fall pregnant. Food sources of iron should be the first priority and supplementation should then be introduced when insufficient quantities are able to be obtained through diet. However Iron supplementation should always be prescribed by your doctor.
It’s important to note that some supplements can cause stomach discomfort and constipation. Talk to your pharmacist, doctor and dietitian about some of the best ways to manage these symptoms.
- If you’re planning on getting pregnant then get in touch with your GP to have a blood test to measure a number of different nutrient and mineral levels including your iron.
- Opt for food sources that contain haem iron (if you are not following a vegan or vegetarian diet) as these are better absorbed by the body. e.g. meat, chicken
- Aim to obtain your iron needs from food sources and only take supplements when adequate amounts are not able to be obtained through diet. Supplementation should always be introduced under the guidance of your doctor.
- If you are a vegetarian try combining some vitamin C rich foods (such as citrus) with your intake of non-haem iron containing foods such as legumes to enhance iron absorption.(1)