Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron is essential for everyone. It is an important mineral needed to produce hemoglobin, which is key to carrying oxygen in the blood from your lungs to the rest of your body. It is used to make myoglobin which supplies oxygen to your muscles. Iron is also used in making DNA and producing energy at the cellular level.
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. It happens when your iron is low enough that your body is unable to supply enough new red blood cells. With fewer healthy red blood cells, your blood has a reduced ability carry oxygen throughout your body. This will generally manifest as the fatigue we all know too well, but it can also show up as general weakness, light-headedness, pale skin, intolerance to cold or dizziness.
Iron deficiency is more common in young children aged 0 to 5 years, pregnant women, those of you who follow vegetarian diets.
The average adult female requires 18 mg of dietary iron per day, whereas an average adult male requires only 8 mg daily. As a result, iron deficiency anemia is more common in women.
Usually through a blood test. It can be very hard to differentiate between fatigue brought on by low thyroid hormones or due to low levels of vitamin B. A blood test will reveal that your red blood cells and serum ferritin are low. Ferritin is the storage form of iron and when iron is depleted, we already know that the body can’t make enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to energize you.
Mild iron deficiency anemia seldom leads to complications. Left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can lead to serious health problems such as irregular heart beats which can be fatal. In pregnant women, this can lead to premature births and low birth weights.
We first try to treat the underlying cause of low iron. For most people, this means increasing your intake of foods that have high iron content. Beef, pork, chicken and most seafoods are a good source of iron. Vegetarians can eat more tofu, spinach chickpeas, or soybeans. Other causes are bleeding disorders from trauma, menstruation, or medications. Some of you may have conditions that affect your absorption of iron, such as celiac disease or H.pylori infection. It is best to see your doctor to assess you. Once they determine that you have iron deficiency anemia, you can be started on iron supplements. Most guidelines recommend that an adult take 100 to 200mg of elemental iron per day.
Basically, iron comes as two forms as heme iron derived from meat and non-heme iron found in vegetables. Heme iron is better absorbed, but you only get 11mg per tablet, so this is better if you’re looking to prevent anemia. Nonheme iron comes in many different salts, but ferrous iron is the best absorbed. Other forms like ferric iron from plants need to first be converted to ferrous iron before it can be absorbed. Don’t take iron without first seeing your healthcare provider.
You are more likely to have side effects from iron if you take a higher dose. This includes nausea, upset stomach, constipation, or darkened stools. Liquid iron formulas can stain your teeth, so I always recommend taking that through a straw and rinsing with plenty of water or orange.
Iron supplementation correct your anemia causing fatigue within two to four months, but you may need to continue taking supplements for another three to six months to replenish iron stores.
Vitamin C enhances iron absorption. I like to recommend taking iron with a glass of orange juice after a meal. You get less iron absorption with food, but this minimizes side effects.
Only ferrous iron (Fe2+) can be absorbed. Polysaccharide iron supplements provide ferric iron (Fe3+), which as I mentioned previously, need to first be converted in the stomach before it can be absorbed.
And lastly, always space iron apart from drugs and supplements, especially ones containing calcium or magnesium such as multivitamins or antacids. These will bind to the iron and prevent it from being absorbed.