Friday, October 15, 2010

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia (anemia) is fairly common in children, women of childbearing age and pregnant women. It can result from poor food intake or from the loss of large amounts of blood. Pregnant women often become anemic due to the rapidly increasing blood volume of both mother and baby.

What Causes Anemia
Diet. You could develop anemia simply because you are not getting enough iron in your diet. Anything that interferes with the absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) could also lead to anemia. Children who are growing rapidly may become anemic if they drink a lot of milk but eat little meat or other iron-rich foods.

Pregnancy. Pregnancy can also lead to iron deficiency anemia. During pregnancy, both the mother and baby are increasing their blood volume. This requires iron to make the hemoglobin. If there is not enough iron to meet this need, anemia can result.

Blood loss. Losing a lot of blood is another way that you can develop anemia, including injury to a blood vessel, heavy menstrual periods, malabsorption, or any condition that results in bleeding from the gut.

Symptoms of Anemia
If you are anemic, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • Tiredness/fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lowered immunity/frequent infections
  • Pale skin
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Pica: Eating ice, dirt or chalk
  • Tingling of the hands and feet

Preventing Iron Deficiency Anemia
The most important thing that you can do to prevent iron deficiency anemia is to eat a diet that is rich in iron. Liver and red meat are good sources. You can also get iron from other animal products as well as plant sources. Eat more whole foods and less processed foods for optimum results.

Additionally, eat foods that are high in vitamin C will help to increase the amount of iron you absorb. On the other hand, drinking milk at the same meal with iron-rich foods will reduce the amount of iron absorbed, so try to drink milk or consume other calcium-rich foods at a different time.

If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, you will need to take steps to correct the problem as quickly as possible. There are two primary approaches to treating iron deficiency anemia - diet and iron supplementation. The treatment will depend on the cause of the anemia and the severity.

Diet. If you are not getting enough iron from your diet, you will need to will need to eat more iron-rich foods. A registered dietitian can help you to identify ways to increase your intake.

Supplement. In some cases, a basic multivitamin with mineral supplement might help to improve your hemoglobin level. Your doctor may prescribe a higher dose iron supplement where diet and a basic MVI with iron is not enough. Conditions such as pregnancy, malabsorption and conditions that result in chronic blood loss typically require a high dose supplement.

Food Sources of Iron
Animal products such as liver, red meat, poultry, fish, clams and egg yolk are high in iron. But you can also get the iron you need from a diet that is rich in plant foods. Spinach and other green leafy greens, legumes, dried fruit, dried beans and peas, pumpkin seeds and molasses are all good sources. In  addition, breads and cereals that have been enriched with iron can also help to boost your iron intake.

Recommended Intake
The recommended intake of iron for women ages 19-50 is 18 milligrams. In comparison, the RDA for men of the same age is a mere 8 milligrams. The difference is due to the large loss of iron that women experience during their monthly period. Requirements at different stages in life vary.

What Next?
Eat foods that are high in iron daily to boost iron levels, increase hemoglobin level and reduce your risk of anemia.