Common metal gives women an edge

By | Health & Wellness
Iron supplements have been shown to positively increase the physical aptitudes of female athletes, such as in players from the Women's Rugby Union above, a study reports. The iron supplemented diets were shown to help muscle mass perform, with bigger muscles needing more oxygen. Credit image@ Carlos Delgado, wikimedia commons.

Move aside Ironman, Ironwoman is here to take your place. A new study from an international team of scientists has noted the marked improvements in female athletes following iron-supplemented diet.

The paper was published in the online edition of the scientific journal Journal of Nutrition, due to available in print in June’s edition of the magazine.

The team was composed of individuals from various health departments in their respective faculties, including the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne, MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, part of England’s very own University of Oxford, and the The Micronutrient Initiative based in Canada.

It had been previously noted, in human as well as animal studies, how a diet where iron was eaten in only small amounts often resulted in reduced athletic (or physical) performances.

This reduced iron count is particularly common in women of a reproductive age as a result of their menstrual cycle, an important source of blood loss. As a result, women need to tap into their other stores like the liver or bone marrow, reducing the amount of iron available in the body.

Seeing as blood is one of the body’s largest iron stores, it is easy to understand why doctors and health practitioners often urge young women to ensure an iron rich diet, especially during certain points in their cycles.

However, the benefits of iron supplementation could extend to the realm of sports too.

The blood is composed of three major constituents: red blood cells, white blood cells and plasma. The first, also known as erythrocytes, contains the compound haemoglobin, an oxygen transporting protein that contains within its square-like molecular structure an iron ion, which is used to bind to oxygen.

Haemoglobin accounts for up to 96% of the dry weight of a red blood cell, increasing the oxygen uptake capacity of the blood sevenfold.

The team collated the results of several previous papers that had yet to fully discover the effects of iron supplements in women who exercise, in a technique called meta-analysis. This statistical analysis method essentially looks for patterns in different data sets, allowing the scientists to see a clearer picture of what was going on.

The conclusion for this group analysis was particularly encouraging regarding female use of iron supplements, and is the first time that researchers can positively and affirmatively conclude that the metal does have beneficial effects.

The research showed that iron supplementation improved athletic performance, both at maximal and submaximal capacities, whilst noting that women could perform exercises at a lower heart beat and at a higher efficiency compared to those who stayed as the control group.

The greatest results seemed to occur in women who were anaemic, or iron deficient, prior to the start of the trails.

This news is particularly important to elite female athletes, as these women may show signs of iron deficiency as a result of their diet and the fact that excessive sports leads to muscular inflammation which has been shown to reduce the amount of iron available, noted Dr Pasricha, lead author of the paper, speaking to the University of Melbourne’s press release of the findings.

Iron supplements can be found in many health stores across the nation. However it is equally abundant in many food items on the supermarket shelves, with animal livers and seafood being particularly rich in the dietary iron required by the body.

Leguminous vegetables such as soybeans and lentils offer more than twice the amount that is found within spinach, a food analogous with iron, meaning even vegetarians can receive the necessary amounts of the essential compound.

What is your favourite way to prepare and eat iron-rich foods?

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