Can Iron Deficiency Affect Your Fertility?

Iron Deficiency


Elaine Otrofanowei is a Fertility and Women's Health Acupuncturist with a strong and personal interest in peri/menopause. Through; she provides Acupuncture and Functional Medicine to patients to help them restore their health and wellbeing and specialise in the treatment of both male and female infertility and other women’s health issues.

January 22, 2022

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Most women are aware of the fact that iron deficiency can leave us feeling absolutely exhausted and run down. However, what many women don’t realize is that iron deficiency can have significant impacts on our fertility. If we are lacking iron (and therefore lacking adequate oxygen delivery to our body’s tissues), how can we be expected to get pregnant and stay pregnant? Iron deficiency and fertility go hand in hand.

Iron Deficiency and Fertility

Iron deficiency has been linked to infertility, miscarriage, low birth weight, and preterm labour Researchers have found that women with inadequate iron stores are more likely to suffer from anovulation, meaning they fail to ovulate. As most of us know, when we don’t ovulate, pregnancy becomes completely impossible! Moreover, when our iron stores fall into an unhealthy range, this prevents red blood cells from developing. This translates into decreased oxygen to the body’s tissues INCLUDING the ovaries and uterus. When there is insufficient oxygen delivery to our reproductive organs, eggs become poor in quality, and may even become unviable2. Again, without optimal egg quality and development, pregnancy becomes near impossible.

Even if you are iron insufficient and manage to become pregnant, the lack of oxygen delivery affects the baby’s development, prevents proper placental development, and increases the rates of miscarriage and preterm birth3.

If you’ve been struggling with infertility, it’s time to take a look at your iron status! But first lets look at the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency.

You may have low Iron levels if you:

  • Have light, irregular or very heavy periods
  • Are vegan, vegetarian or eat minimal red meat, especially if you don’t regularly supplement with iron
  • Exercise most days or exercise intensely
  • Have had digestive issues for a while, you may not be absorbing iron
  • Are really tired
  • Often get dizzy or lightheaded, especially during and after your period
  • Get floaters (flecks or black dots that come and go in your eyes)
  • Have dark circles under your eyes
  • Have hair loss or nails that break easily

Iron vs. Ferritin

We often hear about testing serum iron AND ferritin to determine iron status, so what is the difference between these two? Put simply, ferritin is a protein that stores your body’s iron, whereas iron is just the amount of iron present in your blood. Ferritin is the measure most often used to determine your body’s iron status!

When it comes to ferritin and fertility, we want to aim for 50 ng per mL and over. Although 50 ng per mL still technically falls into the “suboptimal” state, menstruating women lose blood every cycle (and hence lose iron every cycle depending on how heavy the bleeding is) which sometimes makes it very difficult to attain levels above 60. Often a level of 50 ng/ml should be enough to become and remain pregnant!

How to optimise your iron levels

What to do if your levels are low?

  • Discuss with your doctor what might be causing this and if an iron infusion is needed
  • Supplement with the right form of iron
  • Eat more iron rich foods

Heme Vs. Non-Heme

Heme iron is the more easily absorbed form of iron, and is typically found in animal sources. Nonheme iron is more difficult for your body to absorb, and comes from plant-based sources. Nevertheless, both forms are fine to take and will likely provide benefit! Either way, and especially with non-heme forms of iron, you must ensure you are taking a high quality and highly absorbed form, which will minimize side effects.

  • Over the counter iron tablets can be hard to absorb for people who have gut issues. Look for easier to digest forms of iron such as Iron Glycinate or Iron Amino Acid Chelate forms, rather than Ferrous form as they are gentler on tummies. To ensure you are absorbing as much iron as possible (whether heme or non-heme), it’s important to pair iron with nutrients that boost its absorption. For example, vitamin C, B12, and folate enhance iron absorption and should therefore be included in your iron supplement!
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  • Food sources of iron are important as they contain other vitamins and nutrients that help each other be absorbed but may not be enough to correct a severe deficiency. To reach the daily recommended iron intake of 18mg or 27mg in pregnancy, you’re going to need a lot of food! An average 215g beef steak only has 4mg. Other meats such as chicken or pork have less than that. A 1/2 cup packed with cooked spinach only has about 3mg of iron.

Foods Rich in Non-Heme Iron:

  • Legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds including peanuts and hazelnuts
  • Dried fruits including prunes, raisins, and figs
  • Leafy green vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach)
  • Whole grains such as oatmeal

Foods Rich in Heme Iron:

  • Beef, Liver, chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, and eggs

Foods Rich in Vitamin C:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Peppers
  • Kiwi
  • Leafy greens such as broccoli and kale
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries

The Fertility Shop - Fertility Product - Food Grown Iron Plus

Food-Grown Iron Plus

Our natural, high-quality Iron Plus formula provides a suite of nutrients to help combat tiredness, immunity and replenish iron levels for women.

5 key nutrients including…

  • Vitamin C to support the absorption of iron
  • Vitamin B2 to help the body process Iron
  • Iron for healthy hemoglobin (blood oxygen) and energy
  • Molybdenum to support ferritin (stored Iron)
  • Bioflavonoids to support Vitamin C absorption

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