Nutrients and Lifestyle Approaches for a Healthy Brain
Iron, Depression, and the Postpartum Woman

Iron, Depression, and the Postpartum Woman

Women who have been pregnant receive fair warning from obstetricians and midwives that they need to watch their iron intake. Hemoglobin levels get monitored in pregnancy. And though the poking and prodding gets old if you are the pregnant woman, the importance of iron in pregnancy and in nutrition in general cannot be overstated. Most women do not consume nearly enough iron in a day. Add pregnancy to the picture, where her body is required to produce more blood to support the uterine lining and placenta, and iron deficiencies become quite common.

The western diet is in a large part responsible for our low iron status. Foods low in iron such as white flour and potato chips have replaced higher iron whole foods such as whole wheat bread and legumes. Meat consumption has been on the decline as well which would be a good source of iron in an otherwise processed-food diet.

Deficiency Signs

My friend Jennifer, who had record-breaking low levels of iron, was plagued by common signs of the deficiency: pale coloring and exhaustion. After only about two months of iron supplementation, a friend she had not seen in a few months looked at her and said, “You have color in your face, my dear!”

If your skin is pale, if you are fatigued, if you chill easily, if your heart beats rapidly, if you are prone to dizziness, if your fingers and toes tingle, you might be low in iron.

Iron and Depression

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Research finds that treating an iron deficiency will also improve our depression. The research tends to focus on postpartum depression:

  • A study of ninety-five new mothers in South Africa found that treating iron-deficiency anemia with an iron supplement (125 mg of ferrous sulfate) improved the mood of the mothers (Beard et al. 2005)

  • New mothers in Pennsylvania were more likely to be depressed if they were low in iron (Corwin et al. 2003).

Dietary Sources

Your body will tend to absorb more iron from meat sources. The standouts for iron in the meat world are crab and organ meats such as liver. In the plant world, select some of the more unusual grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and millet, and legumes such as soy and lentils, and follow my preparation tips in the grains and legumes chapter. You will absorb more iron if your meal includes vitamin C, so add tomato, fruit, or other sources of vitamin C to your meal. Milk tends to inhibit iron absorption in other foods, so it is best to eat your high-iron meals with limited dairy foods.

I actually developed a whole iron site on iron in food. Check it out if you are interested: IronRichFood.org

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Follow Amanda Rose, Ph.D. and her "Good Day Strategies" -- food and lifestyle approaches we can implement on "good days" that will continue to help us on "bad days" even if we do nothing on those days but get through. (Learn more here.)