How Much Iron Does a Menstruating Female Really Need?

Iron is a crucial mineral that plays a vital role in many bodily functions, particularly in the production of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. For menstruating females, maintaining adequate iron levels is especially important due to the monthly blood loss that occurs during their periods. But how much iron does a menstruating female really need? Let’s delve into the recommended daily intake, the importance of iron, and practical ways to ensure you’re meeting your iron needs. 

Why Iron is Essential for Menstruating Females

Iron is fundamental for several bodily functions: 

  • Oxygen Transport: Haemoglobin, an iron-containing protein in red blood cells, transports oxygen from the lungs to tissues.
  • Energy Production: Iron is a component of various enzymes involved in energy production and metabolism.
  • Immune Function: Adequate iron levels support a healthy immune system. 
  • Cognitive Function: Iron is essential for maintaining cognitive functions and preventing fatigue. 

Recommended Daily Iron Intake 

The daily iron requirements vary based on age, gender, and life stage. For menstruating females, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) is higher due to the monthly blood loss. 

Here’s a detailed look at the RDI for iron: 

Adolescent Girls (14-18 years): 15 mg/day 

Adult Women (19-50 years): 18 mg/day 

Understanding Iron Loss During Menstruation 

Menstruating females lose blood each month, which can lead to a significant loss of iron. On average, women lose about 30-45 millilitres of blood per menstrual cycle, equating to a loss of approximately 0.5-0.7 mg of iron per day. This increased iron loss needs to be compensated through diet (or supplements, only if required) to prevent iron deficiency and anaemia. 

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency 

Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia, characterised by low haemoglobin levels. 

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Pale skin 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Dizziness or light headedness 
  • Cold hands and feet 
  • Brittle nails 

How to Meet Your Daily Iron Needs 

Dietary Sources of Iron 

There are two types of dietary iron: heme and non-heme iron. 

Heme Iron: Found in animal products, it is more easily absorbed by the body. 

Sources include: 

  • Red meat 
  • Poultry 
  • Fish 
  • Eggs 

Non-Heme Iron: Found in plant-based foods, it is less efficiently absorbed but still crucial. 

Sources include: 

  • Lentils 
  • Beans 
  • Tofu 
  • Spinach 
  • Quinoa 
  • Pumpkin seeds 

Enhancing Iron Absorption 

Certain dietary practices can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron: 

  • Vitamin C: Consuming vitamin C-rich foods (such as citrus fruits, strawberries, capsicum, and broccoli) with iron-rich meals can significantly boost non-heme iron absorption. 
  • Avoiding Inhibitors: Certain substances can inhibit iron absorption, including calcium, tannins (found in tea and coffee), and phytates (found in whole grains and legumes). Try to consume these at different times than iron-rich meals. 
  • Iron Supplements: If dietary intake is insufficient, iron supplements can help meet the daily requirements. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any supplementation, as excessive iron can cause adverse effects. 

Maintaining adequate iron levels is crucial for menstruating females to prevent deficiency and support overall health. With an RDI of 18 mg for adult women and 15 mg for adolescent girls, it’s essential to incorporate iron-rich foods into your daily diet and enhance absorption through dietary practices. If necessary, iron supplements can help bridge the gap, but always consult with a healthcare provider before starting supplementation. By prioritising iron intake, you can support your energy levels, immune function, and overall well-being. 


Q: Can I get too much iron from my diet? 

A: It’s unlikely to get too much iron from food alone. However, excessive iron from supplements can cause adverse effects, so always follow the recommended dosage. 

Q: What are the best plant-based sources of iron? 

A: Excellent plant-based sources include lentils, beans, tofu, spinach, quinoa, and pumpkin seeds. Combining these with vitamin C-rich foods enhances absorption. 

Q: Should I take an iron supplement during my period?

A: If you’re struggling to meet your iron needs through diet alone, an iron supplement during your period might be beneficial. 

It's always recommended that you discuss your unique needs with a healthcare practitioner, like a naturopath, to assess your health holistically. If you're interested in learning more, book a consultation today with one of our naturopaths. 

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