Anemia and Menstruation: Can Your Period Cause Anemia?
While periods themselves are a completely natural process, they can cause certain imbalances to occur in the body. One of these is anemia.
Anemia is a common blood disorder caused by either a lack of healthy red blood cells, or not enough hemoglobin (a protein found in red blood cells which transports oxygen around the body). It can cause tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
The good news, though, is that anemia can be treated by taking supplements or eating a healthy diet.
The Link Between Anemia and Menstruation
So, why is anemia sometimes associated with your period? Menstruation can trigger anemia if the person menstruating has menorrhagia - or heavy periods. Various factors can cause heavy periods, including conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroids, endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease.
If you lose a lot of blood during your period, your body can lose more red blood cells than it can make - which in turn leads to a lack of iron.
The knock-on effect of this is that your body can struggle to make the hemoglobin needed to carry oxygen throughout your body.
Causes & Symptoms
While menstruation can trigger anemia, it’s not the only culprit. Other common reasons for developing anemia include:
A lack of iron, B12 or folate in your diet
Problems with your bone marrow, which can lead to your body producing less blood cells
Major blood loss, either from a sudden injury or a longer-term issue, such as hemorrhoids or peptic ulcers, which can cause bleeding in your bowels
Pregnancy. When pregnant, your body requires more iron and folate than usual, so your diet may no longer be enough
- Conditions like Crohn’s or coeliac disease, which affect how your body absorbs nutrients from your bowel
A compromised immune system, which can be caused by infections or cancers that result in inflammation and fewer red blood cells
Genetic disorders like thalassaemia or sickle cell anemia, which destroy or deform red blood cells
- Chronic kidney disease, which can affect the production of your red blood cells
Anemia usually presents itself in the following ways:
Cold hands and feet
- Shortness of breath
5 Dietary Tips for Anemia During Menstruation
Increase iron-rich foods
An iron deficiency is one of the major reasons why your diet could be triggering anemia. Boost your iron intake with foods like lean red meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, spinach and fortified cereals to replenish your iron stores.
Pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C
Creating salads is a great way to do this. Add vitamin C-filled strawberries, bell peppers or broccoli to your spinach salad. Finish with a lemon dressing or add a glass of orange juice for an extra iron boost.
Include foods high in folate and vitamin B12
A lack of folate and B12 vitamins in your diet can cause the body to produce abnormally large red blood cells that cannot function properly. To help combat anemia, it’s a good idea to incorporate foods like leafy greens, legumes, fortified grains, eggs, dairy products and seafood into your diet.
Choose iron-fortified foods
There are lots of options for iron-fortified cereals, bread, or pasta to provide an additional source of iron in your diet. Always check the food label to make sure you’re getting the most out of your kitchen cupboards.
Enhancing your diet with iron-rich food options is always a good idea, but it can also help to use iron supplements to make sure you’re getting enough iron intake. Talk to your healthcare provider about the potential need for iron supplements during menstruation. They can assess your iron levels and provide guidance on appropriate dosage if necessary.
How To Replenish Iron During your Period
Blood levels can be replenished in around four or five hours, but red blood cells can take longer: around four to six weeks. It’s therefore important to always maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle - not just during your period - to help keep iron supply up.
Ways to boost your iron count include eating foods that are rich in iron and folic acid - as we’ve covered above - as well as vitamin C. And don’t skip the protein! Having this in your diet helps to improve the protein structure of the hemoglobin.
Does Anemia Affect Your Period?
As we’ve covered, heavy periods can cause anemia by causing your body to lose too many red blood cells. Having anemia can affect your menstrual cycle, causing irregular periods which can impact your ability to get pregnant.
What Happens to Anemics On Their Period?
Anemic people will often feel tired, weak, short of breath and dizzy during their period. In addition, low iron levels can put you at greater risk of your periods stopping altogether. This is because excess blood loss through menstruation can impact your body’s ability to replace the iron fast enough for the next period.
Can Your Period Make Anemia Worse?
For those who experience heavy periods, the blood loss can cause anemic symptoms to worsen - making you more tired or dizzy than usual. Maintaining a healthy iron intake in your everyday diet can ease these symptoms. Iron supplements are also an option, but remember to always speak to your healthcare provider beforehand.
Can Heavy Periods Cause Anemia?
Yes. Losing a lot of blood during your period can result in your body losing more red blood cells than it can make - which in turn leads to a lack of iron. The knock-on effect of this is that your body can struggle to make the hemoglobin (a protein found in red blood cells which transports oxygen around the body) needed to carry oxygen throughout your body.
Final Thoughts on Anemia and Menstruation
Anemia is extremely common - in fact, the World Health Organization estimates that in 2019, almost 30% of women aged 15-49 years suffered from anemia. While heavy periods can trigger anemia, there are a lot of options available to manage or even reverse the condition.
Maintaining a healthy diet high in iron, folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin C can help your body boost its iron count, as well as certain supplements at the advice of your doctor or healthcare provider.