Iron deficiency is much more common in women while children of all ages have rapid growth spurts making them susceptible to iron deficiency and anemia. Even lead poisoning can be a cause in children. Strict vegetarians are more prone to iron deficiency because iron may well be lacking in their diet while people who have lost their teeth have difficulty in eating a balanced diet and may be absorbing too little iron.
Pregnant women need extra iron to nourish their unborn babies.
The main reason is because of chronic internal bleeding - especially in the elderly
Foods rich in iron are:
- Meat (especially liver)
- Legumes such as peas and beans
The iron in these foods will better absorbed when taken with citrus juice.
Spinach and other leafy green vegetables
We all know about Popeye and his spinach
but it turns out that spinach is no richer in iron than any other leafy green vegetable and it must be eaten raw. For over sixty years spinach was considered a food that was extraordinarily high in iron with Popeye as the cartoon character eating up his spinach, every time danger threatened, to give him muscles of iron. It took a long time for news of an original error in calculating the iron in spinach (it was said that spinach had 10 times the iron over other green vegetables) to filter through to people as it had to travel through medical journals and there was the small distraction of World War II.
Iron deficiency anemia usually refers to a condition in which your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells which carry oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin. If you do not have enough stored iron, your body makes fewer red blood cells and those red blood cells it does make will have less hemoglobin than normal.
With many people, iron deficiency is mostly caused by long term blood loss
This can be because of:
- Heavy menstrual periods.
- Peptic ulcer disease.
- Colon and uterine cancer as well as cancerous tumors.
- Lesions or injuries to the gastrointestinal tract, particularly the colon.
The problem with iron deficiency is that the symptoms can come on so gradually that they may not be noticed.
The major symptom is fatigue but there are others
- Pale skin and gums
- Pale nail beds and eyelid linings
- More rapid and noticeable heartbeat if anemia is severe
- Shortness of breath
- Low blood pressure (particularly when going from lying down or sitting to standing up)
- A sore tongue
- Brittle nails
- Unusual food cravings
- Decreased appetite (particularly in children)
The good news is that iron-deficiency anemia can usually be successfully treated but such treatment may depend on the cause and severity of the condition because sometimes the underlying cause will need treatment too. The condition cannot be treated by diet alone. Help is needed in bringing back the levels of iron to normal.
In severe cases, it may be necessary for hospitalization, blood transfusions, iron injections or intravenous iron therapy
When the deficiency is less severe, treatment is with an oral iron supplement such as ferrous sulfate taken 3 times per day will do the trick. Some people have an intolerance to oral supplements and then intravenous iron can be given. The elderly may respond more slowly to iron replacement therapy while the young have a more rapid response.
If you are concerned that you or a member of your family could be iron deficient, speak to your doctor about being tested.