Iron study to improve lives
A world-first WA study into the effect of iron intake on elite athletes could also unlock a pathway to healthier living for people in everyday life.
The University of WA and WA Institute of Sport, through the High Performance Sport Research Centre, will start blood-testing a group of 16 athletes next month in a bid to better identify the benefits of iron on performance and the best times to take it to improve absorption.
Iron deficiency, which causes lethargy and fatigue, is estimated to affect up to half of the world’s population.
The centre’s research director Pete Peeling said it was heightened in athletes because of their increased hormonal activity immediately after exercise.
But he believed the study could also uncover benefits for the general population.
Mr Peeling said depleted iron stores was a problem for between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of women but was negligible in men.
That rose to 35 per cent in female athletes and 10 per cent in their male counterparts and was especially evident in endurance-based athletes and those on a vegetarian diet.
“Your body doesn’t produce iron, so the only way you can get it is from your diet and a number of different exercise processes result in you losing your iron stores,” Mr Peeling said.
“If you don’t have the store, you can’t adapt to the training. The hormone profiles that occur after exercise mean that you absorb less iron.
“If you’ve got elevated hormone levels you’re going to absorb less iron and that’s one of the reasons athletes become iron deficient, which is a big problem in Australian sport.
“We’re not very good at absorbing what we eat anyway so exercise just adds another pressure.”
The research will be driven by UWA-WAIS PhD candidate Rachel McCormick, who hopes to publish her results by the end of the year.
The research has been partly funded by the Australian Institute of Sport, the Australian Sports Commission and Triathlon Australia.
UWA’s Pete Peeling and PhD candidate Rachel McCormick are heading a joint study between UWA and WAIS on the effects of iron on elite athletes.