News | Published May 22, 2014 | Written by Joy Mattern, PA-C, internal medicine, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Iron supplements improve strength and performance in women

A new meta-analysis conducted by the University of Melbourne found that women of reproductive age who took iron supplements had a marked improvement in exercise performance. In the study, women training as elite athletes or those who were iron deficient who took iron supplements were able to perform exercises at a lower heart rate and higher efficiency. Other studies have shown that women who took iron experienced improved work productivity.

Premenopausal women who are physically active are often iron deficient due to diet, menstrual blood loss, and possibly malabsorption of iron from excessive exercise. This study suggests that these women should be screened for iron deficiency and treated if they are deficient. Women who have low iron stores may experience fatigue and lethargy, and their performance may be improved by taking iron supplements.   

To boost your iron stores, take an iron supplement and/or try to eat a diet rich in the following foods: 

  • Red meat
  • Egg yolks
  • Dark, leafy greens (spinach, collards)
  • Dried fruit (prunes, raisins)
  • Iron-enriched cereals and grains (check the labels)
  • Mollusks (oysters, clams, scallops)
  • Turkey or chicken giblets
  • Beans, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans
  • Liver
  • Artichokes

Be sure to also get some vitamin C when eating an iron-rich food or taking a supplement, as it will help with iron absorption. Milk, calcium, and antacids should not be taken within two hours of taking an iron supplement, since they can inhibit iron absorption.

As with all medications, be sure to check with your physician before taking iron supplements, as they can interfere with other medications including some seizure medications and antibiotics.  This study looked only at women of reproductive age, and iron supplements are generally not recommended for postmenopausal women. There are also health concerns with getting too much iron.

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