A new study by Iron Supplement company Active Iron revealed that 41% of women are advised ‘not to worry and just get on with it’, in relation to period symptoms, while nearly half, 48%, are told they will be fine in a few days.
Shockingly, 64% of women have had their symptoms disregarded by friends, family and even healthcare professionals, indicating the extent to which society considers women should just put up with ill-health and suffering when menstruating.
The survey of 1,000 women, conducted in September on behalf of the Irish supplement brand, confirmed that 74% of women experience stomach cramps, while 64% have menstrual fatigue, which were two of the most common period symptoms.
Its findings raise two issues, Claire Lynch, Brand & Communications Lead for Active Iron, says: “Firstly, society, including women, has normalised the idea that women should expect to suffer with their period. And, secondly, the lack of discussion and awareness means simple solutions for managing periods are not widely known”.
The multitude of advice survey respondents had been given ranged from the helpful and positive, to the bizarre and potentially damaging. It included taking pain-relief (85%), staying hydrated (48%), taking a bath (47%), binging on chocolate (18%), avoiding swimming (16%), having an orgasm (11%) and eating nothing (2%).
In addition, 52% of the panel were advised to keep active. But, with menstrual fatigue holding them back, the advice was conflicting.
The lack of understanding and open discussion about periods led the Cork-based makers of Active Iron to launch an education initiative. The Better Days. Period. campaign aims to empower women to have conversations about the impact of period symptoms, while also taking action to address them.
Claire Lynch explains; “Periods are a completely natural and normal part of a woman’s life, yet, for years, menstruation has been a taboo subject that is not discussed openly enough”.
For those suffering with consistent, frequent symptoms it is important to get your levels checked by your doctor Pharmacist Jess Redden says: "For example, menstrual fatigue is one of the most common symptoms experienced. This can be caused by low iron, as a result of blood loss, and is easily remedied”.
Dr Ivanna McMahon, explains that, on average, women lose around 80ml of blood during their period, which will contain up to 250mg of iron.
“This is perfectly normal. But accepting we should feel bad during a period is not. Blood loss means iron loss, which means fatigue. However, lifestyle and diet changes, and taking a supplement like Active Iron, will help sustain energy levels throughout a woman’s cycle”.
The medical professional says it is important not to suffer in silence, but to actively seek solutions and advice, especially for recurring symptoms affecting quality of life.
“There is a straightforward solution to the vast majority of period woes, so a chat with your pharmacist or GP is the place to start. A gynaecologist will also help sort troubling symptoms. But the main thing is not to accept feeling awful as the norm,” Ivanna McMahon says.
Work, Rest and Play
The survey also revealed that untreated period symptoms affected day-to-day life, including work and exercise. 1 in 5 people have taken time off work as a result of their period, and 50% have regularly taken up to 3 days off.
Questioned about how employers might help, 86% said their workplace had no policy when it comes to taking time off because of periods. 82% of women feel there should be more recognition of debilitating period symptoms, like pain and fatigue, in workplaces.
68% believe formal workplace policies in relation to menstrual health would help breakdown the stigma associated with periods.
Over two thirds of women (71%) have stopped exercise because of their period, with 61% saying they feel more tired and fatigued, and 21% struggling to concentrate. 70% of women said their period impacted their performance in sport or exercise. According to Irish Olympic rower Aifric Keogh, “taking Active Iron has been a game changer for my performance when training and competing, especially during my period”.
The connection between iron loss and fatigue was mostly missed by the women surveyed. 64% didn’t consider tiredness and lack of concentration was due to loss of iron, and only 13% were ever advised to take an iron supplement.
Certain iron formulations can be hard to take due to their side effects, which means there can still be a reluctance to take it, despite proven advantages, Claire Lynch says.
“Active Iron is a groundbreaking over the counter supplement that is clinically proven to increase iron and energy levels, and to help avoid side effects like stomach upset”, the campaign manager says.
Active Iron’s products (from €19.99) is available at leading pharmacies and for more information on managing period symptoms, and the role iron can play to support energy and alleviate menstrual fatigue, visit www.activeiron.com.