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Have you ever heard of hepcidin? It’s definitely worth understanding particularly if you are a female athlete, or someone who suffers from iron deficiency anaemia.

Iron is an essential element for many biological processes. Too little iron can have many detrimental effects on your health and sports performance. We have previously discussed the impact iron deficiency and anaemia has on thyroid health and poor immunity. Excess iron can be toxic, so regulation of iron levels is vital to a healthy, balanced body.

Hepcidin is an iron-regulating peptide hormone that’s produced in your liver. It works to control the delivery of iron to your blood from food through the lining of the intestines. It is the master regulator in iron metabolism and the balance between iron storage and absorption better known as iron homeostasis. Hepcidin also tightly influences red blood cell production.

When hepcidin levels are unusually high, it reduces intestinal iron absorption and red blood cell production. Low hepcidin levels stimulates iron absorption, iron supply to bone marrow and promotes hemoglobin and red blood cell production.

Iron deficiency and female athletes

Iron deficiency is common among female athletes, and much higher than their male counterparts. It is often cited as being a result of the menstrual cycle during premenopausal years. Depleted iron stores can have many adverse effects, including poor performance, low energy levels, and general wellbeing.

Some research has shown that active females with compromised iron possess an inherent  protective mechanism  once iron deficient. This adaptation allows the body to adjust to a reduced iron supply. It is proposed iron depletion may be a combination of exercise-induced losses and hepcidin accumulation.

Running is known to acutely increase hepcidin levels (peaking three hours post-exercise), therefore reducing iron absorption and recycling.

Timing iron supplementation to correlate with low hepcidin levels may enhance absorption and positively impact iron levels in the blood. In practical terms, if you exercise in the morning, you might consider taking your iron supplement straight after you exercise, before hepcidin rises.

Hundreds of athletes have used our handy anaemia tool to help determine the likely risk of having low iron or anaemia. If you have experienced iron deficiency in the past and are unsure if your iron stores may be declining click here.

We pride ourselves on providing balanced and well-researched information to athletes. Our next free introductory online webinar on iron deficiency anaemia will be held on 21st February 2022. Limited places available.  Reserve your ticket today here.

Want to know more? Contact the Athlete Sanctuary to learn how we can support you further. Book an appointment here.

 

References

Ganz, T. (2016). Hepcidin. Rinsho Ketsueki57(10), 1913-1917. Doi: doi: 10.11406/rinketsu.57.1913.

Sim, M., Dawson, B., Landers, G., Trinder, D., & Peeling, P. (2014). Iron regulation in athletes: exploring the menstrual cycle and effects of different exercise modalities on hepcidin production. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism24(2), 177-187.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24225901/

Alfaro-Magallanes, V. M., Benito, P. J., Rael, B., Barba-Moreno, L., Romero-Parra, N., Cupeiro, R. FEMME Study Group. (2020). Menopause Delays the Typical Recovery of Pre-Exercise Hepcidin Levels after High-Intensity Interval Running Exercise in Endurance-Trained Women. Nutrients12(12), 3866. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33348847/

Nirengi, S., Taniguchi, H., Ishibashi, A., Fujibayashi, M., Akiyama, N., Kotani, K., & Sakane, N. (2021). Comparisons between serum levels of hepcidin and leptin in male college-level endurance runners and sprinters. Frontiers in Nutrition8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34136516/

Pagani, A., Nai, A., Silvestri, L., & Camaschella, C. (2019). Hepcidin and anemia: a tight relationship. Frontiers in physiology, 1294.  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.01294/full

Sim, M., Dawson, B., Landers, G., Trinder, D., & Peeling, P. (2014). Iron regulation in athletes: exploring the menstrual cycle and effects of different exercise modalities on hepcidin production. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism24(2), 177-187.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24225901/

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