Four in 10 women have iron deficiencies because of the rise of veganism, a shock study suggests.
Researchers found 39 percent of girls and women aged 12 to 21 lack this key nutrient, which can lead to symptoms like extreme fatigue, lightheadedness, and weakness.
Six percent of those females had developed anemia – when there is not enough oxygen in the blood – which makes those symptoms more intense and can cause anxiety and depression.
Iron is a mineral vital for growth and development that’s mostly found in meat, dark leafy greens, beans, and dark chocolate but can even be found in red wine, tofu and certain cereals.
‘There’s been nutrition studies that show that as a whole in the United States, the iron content of the food we eat has decreased over time,’ lead author Angela Weyand of the University of Michigan, told New Scientist.
‘People are eating less red meat and more are becoming vegan or vegetarian.’
A new study published Tuesday in JAMA found that nearly 40 percent of girls and women between 12 and 21 years old were iron deficient. About six percent had iron deficiency anemia
The researchers linked the list of vegetarian and vegan diets to iron deficiency in girls and young women
The researchers evaluated blood samples from 3,490 nonpregnant girls and women between 12 and 21 years old in the United States between 2003 and 2020. Of the 39 percent who were iron deficient, six percent had iron deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia is a common form of anemia, a disorder in which blood lacks an adequate amount of healthy red blood cells.
As the name implies, iron deficiency anemia results from an insufficient amount of iron. Iron is needed to help red blood cells produce hemoglobin, which carries oxygen.
If the body isn’t getting enough oxygen, you may feel fatigued or weak.
Symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, include extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, chest pain, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, cold hands or feet, inflammation, brittle nails, cravings for non-food items like ice or dirt, and poor appetite.
Left untreated, iron deficiency anemia has been linked several serious health problems. For example, according to the Office on Women’s Health, anemia can lead to organ damage. It can also result in heart damage since the heart has to work harder to make up for the lack of hemoglobin.
Not getting enough iron could leave you more susceptible to panic attacks as well. A 2020 study in the journal BMC Psychiatry found that men and women who had iron deficiency anemia were more likely to have psychiatric disorders, regardless of other confounders.
Iron deficiency anemia is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, as research shows it could raise the risk of death for both the mother and child.
Vegetarian diets have long been linked to iron deficiency since many meats and other animal-based products are rich in iron.
A 2018 review in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine suggested that vegetarians have are more likely to have depleted iron stores, which could lead to deficiency.
These diets are on the rise. An October survey from researchers at Kansas State University found that 10 to 15 percent of Americans have identified as vegetarian or vegan since 2020. Additionally, 60 percent of US households had eat vegetarian occasionally.
In 1994, the nonprofit Vegetarian Resource Group found that just one percent of Americans had sworn off meat.
Menstruation may be another common reason why women are so deficient. Just two percent of men, on average, are iron deficient, for example.
However, in the JAMA study, more than a quarter of girls who hadn’t gotten a period yet were deficient in iron.
The number of years participants had been menstruating was not associated with iron deficiency.
Past research, such as a 2017 study in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, has linked heavy menstrual bleeding in teenage patients to iron deficiency anemia.
The researchers also pointed to low body mass index (BMI), food insecurity, poverty, non-white race, and Hispanic ethnicity.
The researchers noted that while supplements and certain foods can increase a person’s iron levels, insufficient screening means they many iron-deficient people don’t know they need to take them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends anemia screening for nonpregnant female adolescents and women every five to 10 years.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends girls and women between 14 and 50 years old get 15 to 18 milligrams of iron every day. Men should get 8 to 11 milligrams between the same age ranges.
The agency also suggested pregnant women get 27 milligrams per day.
Several foods are also packed with iron, including red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, dark leafy green vegetables like spinach, and dried fruit.
For vegans, one cup of cooked lentils, contains 6.6 milligrams of iron, about 37 percent of the daily recommended value.
And a one-ounce serving of dark chocolate has 3.4 milligrams, or 19 percent of the daily recommended value.
The findings were published in JAMA.