It is estimated that 20% of women of childbearing age are iron deficient and 50% of pregnant women develop iron deficiency. Each life stage can bring about different causes (or types) of the condition, which include:
- Increased blood volume
- Blood loss
- Reduced absorption
Age 10 to 14: Puberty & Menstruation
During her adolescent years, a girl’s risk of iron deficiency – due to blood loss or increased blood volume – increases. Puberty brings with it rapid growth spurts and menstruation (along with pimples and embarrassing fashion choices.) As mentioned above, the body requires more iron to accommodate the higher blood volume during growth spurts. Unless the young lady is getting additional iron through an iron-rich diet or an oral iron supplement, her iron levels may have trouble keeping up. Add to this the blood lost each month due to menstruation and you’ve got a perfect storm for iron deficiency.
Age 15 to 45: Childbearing Age
We’ve talked about how blood loss due to menstruation increases the risk of iron deficiency. Pregnancy also greatly increases the risk because of increased blood volume. A woman’s body will produce almost 50% more blood during pregnancy to keep up with her body’s growth and provide iron for her baby. Come the final trimester, the baby begins storing iron for the first 6 months of his/her life, and without proper iron supplementation both mother and baby can be at risk.
Age 55+: Golden Years
In a woman’s golden years, blood loss and poor absorption are the most common causes of iron deficiency. Use of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and aspirin over many years can damage the gastrointestinal tract and cause bleeding. Also, not producing enough stomach acid can interfere with iron absorption. Women in their golden years may also experience decreased appetite and consume a nutrient-poor diet that doesn’t contain enough iron, further increasing their risk of developing iron deficiency. Finally, medications and chronic conditions (which are more common during this stage of life) can also increase the risk.