Iron deficiency anemia can occur from either a lack of iron in the diet or blood loss. Heavy menstrual periods, bleeding in the digestive tract, cancer and sickle cell disease are all causes of anemia, although iron deficiency anemia is usually directly related to diet. Anemia happens when the blood doesn’t have enough hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is a protein contained within red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs around the body. Iron is required to produce hemoglobin, and therefore an iron deficiency will result in anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia can be a mild or serious condition causing temporary illness or long term problems. In the U.S., iron deficiency anemia affects 1-2 percent of adults. However, it is more common in developing countries due to poor diet. In the western world iron deficiency anemia has been combated by the introduction of fortified iron cereals, breads and other iron rich food products.
Meat is a solid source of iron and the body absorbs iron best from meat. This is the reason vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia than meat eaters. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. Therefore eating citrus fruits and other vitamin c rich foods will help stabilize iron in the body.
Foods That Prevent the Absorption of Iron
There a number of foods that prevent the absorption of iron, these include tea, coffee, milk, egg whites, soy protein and fiber. This doesn’t mean these foods should be avoided, but they should be eaten as part of an iron friendly diet containing iron rich foods that assist the body in the absorption of iron.
Foods to Combat Iron Deficiency Anemia
There are a number of iron rich foods that can be consumed to help combat iron deficiency anemia, these include:
- Pork Liver, Chicken Liver, Beef Liver
- Beef, Turkey
- Mussels, Oysters, Clams
- Apricots, Raisins, Prunes
- Nuts, Pumpkin seeds
- Beans, lima beans in particular
- Green leafy vegetables: spinach and broccoli
- Blackstrap molasses
- Whole grains
- Iron-fortified breads and cereals
Iron pills are also an effective way of absorbing iron. If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia a doctor will most likely prescribe iron pills. Some people experience side effects from iron pills, including stomach upset, heartburn and constipation. If you experience adverse effects then notify your doctor immediately. If you are unable to take iron orally or your digestive tract is unable to adequately absorb iron then you will be given an iron injection. The injection will rapidly build up the body’s iron reserves and promote hemoglobin production.
Iron Deficiency Anemia Symptoms
Iron deficiency anemia often goes unnoticed until the hemoglobin level is reduced by 20 percent or more. Before this point there are often no signs or symptoms. When symptoms do arise they will include:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart beat
- Cold hands and feet
- Brittle nails
It is incredibly important to maintain a healthy level of iron within the body. Whilst iron deficiency anemia isn’t very common in the West, a large number of people suffer from a general iron deficiency and experience tiredness and a lack of energy. For your body to perform at optimum level you need to eat an iron rich diet.