1 in 5 women suffers from iron deficiency – period as cause?

Cycle knowledge Aug 2022

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Iron is a vital trace element for our body and essential for a multitude of processes in our body. Since our body cannot produce iron itself, we have to take it in through our food. A deficiency of iron can have many, sometimes fatal, consequences for our body. In this article we will explain how an iron deficiency can come about, what consequences it can have, how it can be prevented and why women are affected by an iron deficiency significantly more often than men.

The period as a cause of iron deficiency

One in five women suffers from iron deficiency. This means that women are affected significantly more often than men. Iron is essential for blood formation and for the transport of oxygen to our cells and organs. The oxygen attaches to the iron in our red blood cells and is thus transported through the body. Women have a high blood loss every month due to their periods and since the iron is in the red blood cells, they also have a high iron loss every month. Due to the high blood and iron loss, women also have a significantly higher iron requirement. This is 50% higher than that of men. Since women do not always manage to compensate for the iron loss during menstruation and to take in enough iron through their food, significantly more women than men suffer from an iron deficiency.

Altered menstrual cycle and iron deficiency

During a “normal” monthly menstrual period, a woman loses up to 80ml of blood. She can lose up to 40mg of iron. This loss is perfectly normal. There are a number of changes in the menstrual cycle that can lead to increased loss of blood and iron. These include increased bleeding or prolonged menstrual bleeding. A shortened menstrual cycle can also lead to a greater or more frequent loss of blood and iron. Iron stores can be depleted particularly quickly in women with menstrual changes and disorders. If you are affected by this, talk to a doctor or gynaecologist and get to the bottom of the cause of the changes and have your iron levels checked regularly.

1 —
Hastka, Jan; Heimpel, Hermann; Metzgerc, Georgia (2007): Eisenmangel und Eisenmangelanämie, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Hämatologie und Onkologie, über: https://www.onkopedia.com/de/onkopedia/guidelines/eisenmangel-und-eisenmangelanaemie/@@guideline/html/index.html.

2 —
Dr. med. Heike Beuß-Kovács (2020): Eisenmangel, 2. Auflage, Mankau Verlag, Staffelsee.

How an iron deficiency manifests itself and what consequences it can have

An iron deficiency can be caused by an unbalanced diet that is too low in iron as well as by increased blood loss, for example due to menstrual bleeding. The consequences of an iron deficiency can be very diverse and sometimes have very serious consequences for the entire organism.

Reduced blood formation

The main consequence of an iron deficiency is reduced blood formation. Iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells. If our iron stores are not full enough, not enough blood cells can be formed. In extreme cases, this can lead to anaemia.

Lack of energy

Iron is responsible for supplying our cells with oxygen. If our cells get too little oxygen due to a lack of iron, the mitochondria in the cells can no longer work properly. The mitochondria are responsible for the energy supply and are the power plants of the cells. The energy produced by the cells is necessary to supply our entire body with energy. If this energy cannot be produced, an energy deficiency is the result. This can manifest itself in the form of exhaustion, tiredness, lack of drive, concentration problems or fatigue.

Circulation problems

Reduced blood formation and an undersupply of oxygen can lead to circulatory problems. These can manifest themselves, for example, in shortness of breath, dizziness, a low pulse, sweating and, in extreme cases, fainting spells.

Immune weakening

In the case of an iron deficiency, the cells are supplied with too little oxygen and also with too few other essential substances. This undersupply leads to a weakening of the immune system. An iron deficiency can also lead to our mucous membranes not being supplied with enough blood. Since our mucous membranes have an important role in our immune defence, especially the defence against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria, these can easily penetrate our body and cause diseases and inflammations if there is insufficient blood circulation.

Hormonal imbalances

Iron is present in many key enzymes involved in our hormone metabolism. When iron is deficient, a number of hormone imbalances can result. For example, it can lead to changes in our dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and thyroid hormone metabolism. These disorders and changes can in turn have further, far-reaching consequences on our entire organism.

Hair, skin and nails

A lack of iron can also become noticeable externally. Hair loss, for example, can be a consequence of iron deficiency. In addition, skin changes such as eczema, inflammation and cracked skin, as well as brittle and soft nails can be signs of a deficiency.

What you can do to prevent iron deficiency

Preventing an iron deficiency is not that difficult. Women in particular should be careful not to develop an iron deficiency. In this section we would like to tell you what you can do to make sure that your iron stores are sufficiently filled.

Have your iron levels checked

It can be useful to have your iron levels checked to see if your iron stores are sufficiently full. You can easily do this at your family doctor. Especially if you suffer from symptoms that could be attributed to an iron deficiency, you should see a doctor. But a check-up to take stock can also be useful, especially for women. An iron deficiency is usually treated by temporary administration of iron supplements.


Since iron is absorbed through food, iron deficiency can be prevented primarily through diet. Iron is contained in a variety of different foods. Therefore, a balanced diet is essential for a sufficient supply of iron. Iron is not only found in meat, but also in vegetables, cereals, nuts, seeds, pulses and in high concentrations in various spices. An adequate iron intake can be achieved both through a meat-containing diet and through a meat-free diet. Since iron is contained in all categories of food, a balanced diet with cereal products, pulses, herbs, vegetables and optionally meat and fish is particularly important. Herbs and spices, such as thyme, cardamom or marjoram, contain particularly high amounts of iron. With a healthy and balanced diet, the iron requirements of a healthy organism are usually sufficiently covered.

If you suffer from illnesses or cycle disorders, it is best to talk to a doctor and find out whether you might have an increased iron requirement and how you can cover it.