Iron Deficiency (Anaemia) : An Overview
In this article, we will cover the key aspects of Iron Deficiency, giving a comprehensive overview of the symptoms, causes and tests that can be used to identify if you have anaemia.
None of us can deny the importance of iron. It is the major building block of every structure on earth. Do you know, even the building of your body owes much to Iron? How? These two points will help you understand.
- Look at the colour of your blood. Has it any resemblance to the colour of a rusted piece of Iron? Exactly! The blood in your veins is red because it has iron. Blood contains a special protein called haemoglobin which carries oxygen from your lungs to the body tissues. Iron is an integral part of your haemoglobin. Conversely speaking, the absence or deficiency of iron in your body will make you deficient in Haemoglobin too. Can you imagine the consequences?
- Similarly, the flesh of animals you eat is also red. It also has an iron-containing protein called myoglobin. So, iron is required for your muscles too and iron deficiency can weaken the muscles of your body.
What is Anaemia (Iron Deficiency)?
Most people will have heard of anaemia. But what exactly does it mean? How do you get it? How can you avoid it? And what can you do if you do get it?
This article will cover all of that.
Anaemia can usually be caused by blood loss due to periods, during childbirth or for those with a deficiency of iron. But, there are plenty of other causes, including a poor diet! In simple terms, anaemia is a lack of red blood cells containing iron and haemoglobin in the blood. An anaemic person will have less oxygen in their blood compared to a person that does not suffer from anaemia.
After reading this article, you'll know everything you should about anaemia. And you'll be able to make better decisions to avoid it. Although sometimes, it's out of our control, there are preventative steps we can take.
How one can avoid Iron deficiency? Iron is an essential part of your diet. Amazed? Of course, it would not be in the form of iron nails. Your diets have extremely minute quantities of iron. This iron is used for the synthesis of new molecules of haemoglobin which are regularly recycled. But, how much iron you should take daily to avoid deficiency symptoms? If you are not feeling any health problems, probably your daily iron intake is enough.
The dietary recommendations are;
- According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), an adult and healthy man needs 8 milligrams of iron in his diet daily.
- Adult women will need double this amount (18 milligrams) as long as their reproductive cycles (monthly periods) are active.
- After the end of this cycle, the daily need drops to the same level as men. The reason might be clear in your mind. An adult female has a more active blood regeneration system due to regular loss of blood during menstruation.
This amount may seem extremely small, but this is enough for your body. If all iron in your body is added up, it will amount to 4 grams for an adult man. A female will have 3.5 grams and a child will have almost 3 grams. This is not more than the weight of a small-sized nail. Given that each haemoglobin molecule has only one atom of Iron in it, these 3-4 grams are sufficient for trillions of red blood cells present in your blood.
The above explanation is enough for you to realise the possible consequences. Your body will not build enough haemoglobin. Your blood will become less red and its oxygen-carrying capacity will be reduced. A reduced supply of oxygen to the tissues will suppress the energy-producing reactions going on in your body. Your muscles will also be deprived of strength.
Signs & Symptoms of an Iron Deficiency
Your body will try to manage the deficiency by improving the efficiency of iron usage. But, as the deficiency becomes prolonged, your start to note various symptoms of iron deficiency with increasing intensity e.g.,
Firstly, we need to address some of the most common signs of anaemia. If you notice any of these, it might be worth talking to your doctor.
We all have lazy days where we're too tired to do much. But when "one of those days" happens every day, that's when we have a problem. Your body becomes deficient in energy molecules due to decreased oxygen supply and you find it difficult to carry out regular activities.
If every day you want to rest for the entire day, or you don't have the energy to do all the things you should, that's not a good sign.
The second sign of anaemia is that you're often dizzy or light-headed.
With blood unable to get into your brain, you're likely to struggle to concentrate on anything. The lack of brain energy also contributes to tiredness.
If you've just run 5 miles, it's understandable that you'd be out of breath.
But, when even light exercise makes you breathe heavily, that's a sign your body isn't working as it should, and your energy levels are too low.
Iron running through your body helps to keep it warm. But, if you find that you're wearing jumpers when everyone else is in t-shirts, that's a sign you may have anaemia.
And finally, headaches. Poor blood flow to the brain can cause your head to hurt - a sign of anaemia.
If you believe you may have an iron deficiency, take one of our at-home blood tests, click here to learn more. Iron deficiency can also progress the longer it is left unchecked, read this article to find out about: The stages of Iron Deficiency.
This symptom is particularly important for children.
- Unusual appetite and likeness for dust, ice or other non-nutritive substances.
- Sores on your tongue
- Cold extremities e.g., feet, hands and ears.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Headache does not respond to any treatment.
- Increased heartbeat
This occurs because your body tries to cover the reduced oxygen in your blood by increasing the supply of blood.
- Chest pain
- This is due to the disturbance of blood flow to the lungs and increased respiration.
- Paleness of skin
- Yellow eyes
- Unintentional movement of the lower leg (restless leg syndrome)
- Abortion in pregnant females
- Death in infants
Causes of Anaemia
There is more than one cause of anaemia. Please note that the following list is not all-inclusive, but it should cover the most common causes.
Lack Of Iron Or B12
A good diet ought to contain enough food with iron and vitamin B12. We get everything that we need to survive from the food we eat. So, if you're getting symptoms of anaemia, it may be time to rethink what you're eating.
Unable To Absorb Iron
Maybe you're getting enough iron into your diet, but your body is struggling to absorb it. Such a struggle could be because of a medical condition or a poor diet. But, if you're eating enough iron-rich foods but still showing signs of anaemia, talk to your doctor about it.
Sometimes, the causes of anaemia are out of our control. For example, those with sickle cell disease may struggle to absorb or use the iron they get in their diet.
Other diseases such as diabetes can have similar effects.
If you're in an accident and lose a lot of blood, plenty of iron will be lost. This is why women ought to eat slightly more iron than usual on their periods.
And finally, there may be some drugs or medications that prevent your body from being able to absorb iron. If you've become more tired since starting the new medication, talk to your doctor about the side effects. If you believe you make have an iron deficiency, read this article on how to test your ferritin levels.
If you have a medical condition, anaemia is unavoidable. But, if you don't, here's some advice on reducing the chances of anaemia.
This is all about diet.
Some foods are naturally high in iron. These include tofu, leafy greens, red meat, lentils, beans, and cereals.
Other foods are high in vitamin B12, which helps the body better absorb iron. These include beef, liver, fish, cheese, and eggs.
It would be best if you also tried to eat food with folic acids- such as leafy greens, peanuts, sunflower seeds, fruit, and whole grains.
Make sure to get enough vitamin C too!
And finally, don't drink too much tea or coffee. Caffeine can impact iron absorption.
How To Manage Anaemia
We recommend talking to a doctor to find the best solution if you have anaemia. What works for one person may not work for another. But, we do have some general rules that may make your life easier.
Firstly, follow the rules above. It won't do you any harm to do your best to have as much iron as you can in your body.
Secondly, think about using iron supplements. The extra iron from these pills could be incredibly beneficial to your body.
Avoid doing too much strenuous exercise. Light exercise is good for you, but make sure not to overdo it and become painfully tired.
And finally, try to keep yourself warm. If you're cold, put on a few extra layers.
Please remember that your doctor's advice trumps what this blog says if you have anaemia. But, this advice is here to make things slightly more manageable for you.
Supplementation is also a great way to get more iron in your diet, however, be aware, that if you take too much Iron, you can develop Haemochromatosis. To find out more read our article on: Haemochromatosis (Iron Overload).
The Etymology Of Anaemia
To better understand what anaemia is, it will help to look at the etymology. We can better grasp what words mean today by looking at where words come from.
The word "anaemia" is the Latinized version of the Greek word "Anaimia",- meaning lack of blood.
This word comes from the Greek "Anaimos", which means bloodless.
"An" in Greek means "without". Anarchy is without government. Anaemia is without blood.
And "Emia" is the Latin word that describes the condition of your blood. It comes from the Greek "Haima", meaning blood.
So, you have realised the gravity of the consequences and did not want to be deficient in iron. What are you going to do? Off course, no one will advise you to eat nails or crushed iron powder. It is even useless for your body. Your body can’t absorb pure iron. Iron is absorbed from digested food from your small intestine. Your small intestine can absorb iron only if it is in an oxidised state (Fe2+- ferrous ions).
Only in this form, it can become a part of your body. Your doctor may advise you to take medications containing ferrous ions. But, do not in self judgemental. Follow the instructions of your physician if you feel you are feeling any symptoms of iron deficiency. Any excess use of iron can toxicate your body (iron toxicity).
Many food items are rich in iron and are recommended by dieticians for people complaining of iron deficiency symptoms. These are liver (factory of haemoglobin synthesis), red meat, kinds of seafood, dry fruits (particularly figs, and apricots), fortified cereals, chicken, beans, spinach (and other dark green leafy vegetables), pumpkin seeds, eggs (each egg has 1.5-2 milligrams of iron), etc... Remember that milk has an almost negligible amount of iron. So, it is important to take a variety of foods.
The iron taken through natural things is useful because it is taken along with a host of other vitamins and minerals which help your body to properly absorb the iron.
Visit your doctor if symptoms of iron deficiency persist
So, you are feeling symptoms of iron deficiency and finding no help from your food? What should you do now? It is time to visit a doctor if you feel;
- Severe and prolonged weakness
- Water and heaviness in your belly
- Severe paleness of skin and yellowing of eyes
- Breathing problems.
These symptoms reflect that foods are not enough and that you need medical help to replenish the iron in your body.
Visiting a clinic may not be a good experience for many of you. So, it is important to have an eye on symptoms of iron deficiency and include iron-rich diets in your dieting plans. It is particularly important for pregnant and premenopausal females and kids. Stay safe and take care of your loved ones. Don’t forget to share this information with your friends and family members.
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