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How Much Iron Do You Need? continued...

Starting at adolescence, a woman's daily iron needs increase. Women need more iron because they lose blood each month during their period. That's why women from ages 19 to 50 need to get 18 mg of iron each day, while men the same age can get away with just 8 mg.  

After menopause, a woman's iron needs drop as her menstrual cycle ends. After a woman begins menopause, both men and women need the same amount of iron -- 8 mg each day.

You might need more iron, either from dietary sources or from an iron supplement, if you:  

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Have kidney failure (especially if you are undergoing dialysis, which can remove iron from the body)
  • Have an ulcer, which can cause blood loss
  • Have a gastrointestinal disorder that prevents your body from absorbing iron normally (such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis)
  • Take too many antacids, which can prevent your body from absorbing iron
  • Have had weight loss (bariatric) surgery
  • Work out a lot (intense exercise can destroy red blood cells)

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you may also need to take an iron supplement, because the body doesn't absorb the type of iron found in plants as well as it absorbs the iron from meat.

How Do You Know If You're Iron Deficient?

"People often don't know they have anemia until they have signs or symptoms -- they appear pale or 'sallow,' are fatigued, or have difficulty exercising," Chottiner says.

If you're low in iron, you may also:

  • Feel short of breath
  • Have a fast heartbeat
  • Have cold hands and feet
  • Crave strange substances such as dirt or clay
  • Have brittle and spoon shaped nails or hair loss
  • Sores at the corner of the mouth
  • A sore tongue
  • Severe iron deficiency can cause difficulty in swallowing

If you're tired and dragging, see your doctor. "It's fairly easy to detect and diagnose the different stages of iron deficiency with a simple blood test," Thomas says. Women who are pregnant and people with a gastrointestinal disorder such as Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease should have their iron tested on a regular basis.

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