Iron deficiency (ID) is the most prevalent micronutrient deficiency disorder in the world. In the developed world, the greatest prevalence of ID and iron deficiency anemia (IDA) occurs in premenopausal women. Premenopausal women experience ID and IDA due to inadequate consumption of dietary iron coupled with iron losses through physiologic processes such as menstruation. Further, female athletes may experience an elevated risk of ID and IDA, as hepcidin, a peptide hormone that inhibits iron absorption and sequesters iron in the macrophage, may rise in response to physical activity. Declines in physical and cognitive performance have been demonstrated in female athletes with ID and IDA. Performance decrements are attenuated as iron status improves. This review will focus on iron status in female athletes, and will include a review of nutritional countermeasures to prevent ID and IDA.
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