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Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in women throughout the world. It is estimated that the proportion of menstruating women in North America who have low iron stores is anywhere between 20-65%. Iron is an essential mineral that delivers oxygen to all of the tissues and organs in the body. Deficiencies in this nutrient occur progressively, which means that even sub-optimal levels can affect a person’s overall health and well-being. The consequences of low iron include widespread symptoms such as:

  • Low energy, reduced exercise performance, difficulty concentrating, cold intolerance, hair loss, anxiety, irritability and depression.

Iron deficiency can occur due to inadequate intake (commonly seen in vegetarian and vegan diets), increased requirements such as in pregnancy and breastfeeding, impaired absorption (for example, celiac disease, bariatric surgery), and blood loss (for example, from heavy menstrual bleeding and blood donation). Iron deficiency is typically assessed by checking your hemoglobin and ferritin, a storage protein for iron. Most labs in Ontario have set their cut off for ferritin at 12 microgram/L, although it has been proposed that this threshold should be raised to 30 microgram/L.

Iron deficiency can be treated through diet and supplementation. If you have questions about your lab work and how to increase your iron, please ask at your next appointment! There are many different strategies we can use to replete your stores and get you feeling better again!


UpToDate – Causes and diagnosis of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia in adults.