Iron, folic acid, and magnesium - important biofactors for menstrual pain and pregnancy

Iron, folic acid, and magnesium are especially important elements for the female body. They are important for blood formation, offsetting blood loss and menstrual cramps. In pregnant or breastfeeding women, a deficiency of these biofactors can interfere with child development or even endanger it. A balanced diet that includes the essential biofactors iron, folic acid, and magnesium can prevent an undersupply, while making you feel just more energetic and healthier. Learn how to detect the signs of iron and magnesium deficiency and how much folic acid you need during pregnancy.


Iron status is especially important for women

Every one of us has 4 g of iron in his or her body. Sufficient iron supply is crucial for red blood cell synthesis and thus for oxygen transport in our body. For women, the blood-forming iron mineral is indispensable not only in the special pregnancy and breastfeeding period, but also during menstruation. Regular blood loss leads to iron loss in many women and this can even lead to proven iron deficiency, which in an advanced stage manifests itself in anemia and is associated with tiredness, lack of concentration, and physical weakness. You should treat such a deficiency with suitable medication in consultation with your physician. An iron deficiency becomes noticeable in grooved, brittle fingernails, hair loss and sensitivity to cold, and above all, in paleness of the lips and entire face.

If you think that an iron deficiency is affecting you, consult your physician!

Which foods contain iron

Animal products such as liver, blood sausage, and chicken eggs contain a lot of iron. Vegetarians should eat lentils (with 6.9 mg/100 g, a very good source of iron) and other legumes as alternative to satisfy their iron needs, as they contain even more iron than the aforementioned blood sausage. Even red vegetables like red beets and the cereal varieties of millet, rye, and oats belong to the iron-rich foods.

However, people absorb iron from foods very differently – about 30% of the iron from animal products is utilized. In comparison only up to 5% of the iron from plant-based foods can be utilized. A combination with vitamin C increases the availability of herbal iron. Therefore you should always pay attention to sufficient vitamin C supply.

If signs of an iron deficiency persist, you should stop excessive consumption of coffee, black tea, and milk – all of them impair optimal iron absorption.

Women suffer from an iron deficiency more often than men – your iron need is that high!

A study of the Max Rubner Institute has shown that up to 75% of all women in Germany aged 14-50 years do not reach the recommended daily value of 15 mg iron and suffer from iron deficiency. Depending on the corresponding living situation, nutrition societies indicate even higher recommended values for satisfying the iron need. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, in particular, have a higher need for iron because of the additional requirements of their babies. Vegetarian women and those with strong menstruation causing high blood loss should also pay attention to their individual iron status. One milliliter blood contains about 0.5 mg iron – therefore, quite a bit must be compensated every month, which is by the way also the reason why women should not donate as much blood as men. Children and toddlers need plenty of iron for a healthy body and brain growth. Competitive athletes excrete more iron with their sweat than couch potatos; they additionally need it for muscle function and regeneration. There are lower nutritional guidelines for men due to the fact that they eat more meat on average than women. In general, they are not at risk for an iron deficiency and even consume more iron than necessary.

Folic acid when trying to conceive and during pregnancy – this is what you should pay attention to

Folic acid, whose full name is pteroyl monoglutamine acid or vitamin B9, is particularly important for expecting mothers. Together with vitamin B12, which is found primarily in foods of animal origin, folic acid is important for fetal cell division and differentiation and essential for DNA synthesis. Apart from pregnancy, sufficient supply of folic acid is important because it contributes to blood formation and a normal homocysteine metabolism.

How much folic acid should you take during pregnancy?

Special attention should absolutely be paid to sufficient folic acid supply during pregnancy: The recommended daily dose of folic acid for pregnant women is 550 µg. Since it is essential for synthesizing the DNA building block thymine and important amino acids, folic acid deficiency in the first weeks of pregnancy can lead to severe damage to the embryo.

Frauengesundheit Kinder

Every year, about 800 so-called neural tube defects that cause brain and spinal cord malformations occur in newborns. If enough folic acid is taken in the first weeks of pregnancy, neural tube defects are less likely to happen. However, 86% of women of all age groups take less than the recommended quantity of folic acid. That’s a problem because more folic acid must be taken no later than the first four weeks of pregnancy to be effective – and these early stage pregnancies are often not even known. Therefore, the German Nutrition Society already recommends women trying to conceive to take higher quantities of folic acid: Even before conception, they should take additional synthetic folic acid (up to 400 µg).

These foods contain folic acid

The human body is unable to synthesize this important vitamin and therefore depends on an outside supply of it through food. Folic acid is found, for example, in yeasts and wheat germ, as well as in spinach, lentils, calf liver, eggs, and sunflower seeds. Folic acid cannot withstand high temperatures and is slightly destroyed in the cooking process. In addition, eating animal innards (which actually contain folic acid) is not recommended during pregnancy due to their high vitamin A content. Since it is difficult to satisfy the very high need for folic acid through an ordinary diet, gynecologists often recommend pregnant women and those trying to conceive to take food supplements.

A magnesium deficiency affects women especially during menstruation and pregnancy

Magnesium is found primarily in our bones and muscles. It fulfills some important functions in the human body such as preserving our bones and teeth, and is responsible for the relaxation and regeneration of our muscles. Magnesium regulates muscle function in cooperation with calcium.


While calcium is used for muscle tone, magnesium helps to stabilize and relax all the muscles in the body. Thus, magnesium deficiency manifests itself in muscle cramps and strains – which can have an effect especially on women during menstruation and pregnancy.

Signs of magnesium deficiency during pregnancy

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are two periods in the life of a woman in which higher magnesium quantities are needed. The first signs of magnesium deficiency during pregnancy can be constipation, stronger pregnancy vomiting and calf cramps in expecting mothers. Magnesium deficiency becomes problematic in pregnancy when premature contractions start, which are strictly speaking "only" muscle cramps. In addition, there can be reduced blood flow in the womb. As several studies have demonstrated, sufficient magnesium supply can prevent the risk of an early birth. Therefore, pregnant women are recommended to take a daily dose of magnesium (310-350 mg) depending on their age. Breastfeeding women need even more magnesium, since breast milk delivers between 33 and 37 mg of magnesium per liter to the infant. The recommended daily dose for these women is approx. 390 mg.

Magnesium deficiency can intensify menstrual pain

The German Nutrition Society indicates that the "normal" daily magnesium dose for adult women is 300-310 mg. A magnesium deficiency during menstruation intensifies menstrual pain, stomach cramps, and the "premenstrual syndrome". Therefore, if you already suffer from strong menstrual pain, it could just be an undersupply with magnesium. About 29% of women in Germany take less than the necessary quantity of magnesium. This applies especially to young women aged 15 to 19. 56% of them do not even reach the recommended daily dose of 350 mg per day.

Which foods contain a lot of magnesium?

The normal need for magnesium can be easily satisfied with a balanced diet that includes nuts, whole grain products, legumes, and dairy products, as they contain a lot of magnesium. Good news for chocoholics: Thanks to the high magnesium content of cocoa powder, bittersweet chocolate has a good bit of it, but a whole grain muesli with milk in the morning helps to keep your magnesium balance well adjusted. When purchasing mineral water, you should also pay attention to the magnesium content. Alcohol consumption can also be responsible for your magnesium deficiency. Its diuretic effect increases the excretion of magnesium and other important biofactors like minerals, trace elements and vitamins.

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