Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the world. Iron is a mineral needed in the production of hemoglobin which is part of the red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body.
If you don’t get enough iron, your body cannot get enough oxygen, and you will develop anemia or iron deficiency. Anemia can occur due to a shortage of two key nutrients in our bodies: vitamin B12 and/or iron.
Below, you can get to know the causes and symptoms of anemia and few tips on how to improve the absorption of iron.
Causes of iron deficiency(anemia)
- Foods low on iron
- Inability to absorb iron due to diseases or removal of a part of the small intestine
- Heavy bleeding
- Chronic kidney disease can develop iron deficiency.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
- Lack of concentration
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Delay normal growth and development in children
- Higher risk of infections
- Premature births and low birth weight babies
- Brittle nails
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat which can lead to heart problems
How much iron do we need to consume a day?
The recommended daily amount that we should consume is 18 mg of iron for women of reproductive age, 27 mg for pregnant women and 8 mg per day for men. Girls aged 14-18 need 15 mg of iron per day.
Food with high iron content
Iron rich food are divided into two groups:
- Animal source – red meat, internal parts, poultry, seafood and eggs yolks
- Vegetable source –legumes, dried fruits, nuts and almonds, tahini and green leafy vegetables
There are also iron-fortified foods like cereals or bread.
The best way to improve iron absorption is to consume more Vitamin C. You can try combining foods that are rich in Vitamin C and foods that are rich in iron.
Plant foods are different from animal foods when it comes to their iron content. In animal foods, iron is often attached to proteins called heme proteins, and referred to as heme iron. In plant foods, the iron is not attached to heme proteins and is classified as non-heme iron. The absorption rate of heme iron is much higher and more efficient than non-heme iron.
After you get diagnosed with anemia, you will be advised and you should consider taking iron supplements, and not just rely on nutrition. The supplements come in forms of syrup, capsule and intravenous infusion.
Which iron supplement is better?
You should choose the supplements that give you a better ratio of more iron absorption and fewer side effects. Possible side effects of taking iron supplements are
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in stool color
- General discomfort in the abdomen
These effects are much smaller if you are taking liquid supplements. Consumption of liquid supplement is easier for the digestive system. Additionally, you should take supplement whose iron absorption is coordinated with the body because excess iron can cause damage.
What can interfere with iron absorption?
- Oxalic acid found in many green vegetables may delay the absorption of iron.
- Phytic acid can also interfere with iron absorption.
- Drinking coffee, tea and chocolate can interfere with iron absorption due to the high content of polyphenols, as well as calcium in dairy products.
The best way is to take an iron supplement while eating a vegetable or a fruit that is rich in vitamin C.