Iron is more than something you pump or use to get wrinkles out of your clothes. This mineral also is vital to your health, yet most women do not get enough in their daily diets. Low iron levels can lead to anemia, a condition for which your physician may recommend taking iron supplements. Always speak to your physician before beginning an iron-supplementation program to ensure that it does not interfere with any medications you are taking.
Your red blood cells are the messengers of your body, carrying oxygen, nutrients and waste through your bloodstream. If you do not have enough red blood cells, you have anemia. Anemia is not always due to an iron deficiency, but iron-deficiency anemia is the most common anemia type, according to WomensHealth. Women are at higher risk for experiencing this anemia type because they lose iron-containing blood during menstruation. If you have very heavy or long periods, you may lose excess iron. Iron helps to carry oxygen in your red blood cells, and many iron-deficiency anemia symptoms may be related to lack of oxygen. These include unexplained fatigue, low energy, shortness of breath with activity, headache, brittle fingernails or hair loss.
About Iron Supplements
Just as one-size-fits-all doesn’t always work when trying on clothes, so too, your iron supplement will vary depending on your needs. Your physician will likely order a blood test to determine just how low your iron levels are and then recommend a particular iron supplement based on the results. Most women should take about 2 to 5 milligrams of iron per kilogram of bodyweight. If you weigh 150 pounds, divide this number by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms, which would be about 68 kilograms. By this measure, a 150-pound woman would need 136 to 340 milligrams of iron supplementation per day, but most women need roughly 150 to 200 milligrams.
How to Take Iron
When you take a trip down the average drugstore aisle, you'll see many iron supplements available -- including some multivitamins that incorporate iron. The most common iron supplement type is ferrous sulfate, according to MedlinePlus. Ferrous supplements tend to be better absorbed than ferric supplements, another iron type. Don’t just go full-speed ahead when taking iron, because the supplement can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting and constipation if you are not accustomed to taking it. Start with half the divided dose, or take a pill in the morning and one in the afternoon to allow your body time to adjust to the additional iron. Over time, your body will better tolerate the supplement and you can increase your dosage. Grab a glass of orange juice while you’re taking the supplement -- vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.
Your iron levels don’t just jump up immediately after you pop your first iron supplement. You can expect that your iron levels will take about two months before your hematocrit levels reach more normal values, according to MedlinePlus. Your hematocrit is a measure of what percentage of your blood is made up of red blood cells. In 2012, researchers at the University of Geneva released a study that followed 198 menstruating women between the ages of 18 and 53 who reported feeling fatigued but did not have any other diagnosed health conditions, according to “The New York Times.” One group took 80 milligrams of iron and the other took a placebo pill. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that the women taking the iron supplement reported a 47.7-percent decrease in fatigue. Women taking the placebo pill reported a 28.8-percent decrease. If you do not see immediate results from your iron supplements, keep taking them because your body may take some time to build new red blood cells.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.