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  • Denise Scott

Iron Deficiency in Girls

Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia are the most common nutritional deficiencies worldwide. These have become especially prevalent in the U.S. in young women ages 12-21. Estimates show that up to 40% of American teenage girls are deficient.

The word iron spelled out in tiles on a red background. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world.

Why is this important?

Iron is a vital mineral for making red blood cells that carry oxygen.

Low iron, with or without anemia, contributes to fatigue and concentration problems. Iron deficiency also is linked to attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD). Additional symptoms include

  • sleep disorders

  • feeling cold

  • hair loss

  • brittle nails

  • lightheadedness

  • worsening athletic performance

  • shortness of breath with exercise.

Toddlers and pregnant women are screened for anemia. Now the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends screening adolescent females every 5 to 10 years.

Why is it so much more prevalent in girls?

One word:


Diet can also be a factor, in particular for those who are vegetarian or vegan.

When blood is lost each month during a period, so too is iron. Not replacing this lost iron leads to deficiency.

There are three screening tests: hemoglobin or hematocrit for anemia, iron, and ferritin. Ferritin is a marker for stored iron.

Girls who experience heavy periods are at higher risk, but all menstruating girls are at risk.

Sources of dietary iron include:

  • Meat

  • Seafood

  • Eggs

  • Green leafy vegetables

  • Legumes

  • Tofu

Examples of iron-rich foods including eggs, legumes, leafy greens, seafood, meat, nuts, and whole grains.

Avoid eating high-iron foods with calcium-rich foods. Calcium decreases iron absorption.

Consume iron with vitamin C sources, such as orange juice or citrus.

If iron is low, a supplement is needed. Depending on testing, a supplement may be a multivitamin with iron or iron alone. Gummy vitamins do NOT contain iron. If side effects are an issue with higher doses of iron (higher than what is in a multivitamin with iron), then taking iron every other day can be helpful.

Tracking periods on a calendar or phone app allows you to know the length and frequency of a cycle.

Talk to your daughter about her periods and how heavy they are - how many pads or tampons she goes through daily, how many days she bleeds, and how often - have her track it on a calendar or phone app. Ask her doctor for screening tests to check for this common adolescent deficiency. It is treatable and preventable.

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Gail Dunford
Gail Dunford
Dec 06, 2023

Hello Dr. Scott! Do you have any knowledge of a cooking tool called The Lucky Iron Fish? It is a fish (or leaf) shaped piece of iron that is added to any liquid based dishes; soups, rice, etc. and presumably leaches 6-8 mg of iron into the food...

Denise Scott
Dec 06, 2023
Replying to

I am not familiar with that product but good to know! Similar to cooking with a cast iron skillet, which gives about the same amount of iron, especially if cooking an acidic food or one with citrus.

Thanks for letting me know!

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