Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common kind of anemia in childhood and serves as half of the anemia cases in all age groups. In which populations is it more common and why? Read all about it here.
Like the air we breathe
Our lives depend on it! we can’t live without it, even for a few minutes. Oxygen. All of our cells need oxygen to live. Did you ever think how the oxygen you breathe reaches every single cell of your body? Breath is an automated and self-occurring action: we take a breath, air goes into the lungs, now what?
In order for the oxygen to reach every cell of your body from the lungs, it has to be dissolved in the bloodstream and travel to each cell, tissue and organ, but that doesn’t happen on its own. Responsible for this process are the red blood cells, also known as “red blood corpuscles.” These cells contain protein called hemoglobin, meant to lead the oxygen from the lungs to the various body cells.
Iron is an inseparable part of the hemoglobin’s structure and functioning and in fact is what ties the oxygen to it, allowing it to be carried through the blood stream. You can surely understand how iron is crucial for you, just as crucial as the air you breathe.
Di you know? Our blood is red due to the hemoglobin. The hemoglobin molecule is made out of a protein structure that connects to the Heme molecules, which are actually a red pigment with 4 iron atoms attached to it.
Iron is one of the most important minerals in the human body, part of the hemoglobin structure and is therefore important in transferring oxygen throughout the body. Iron take part in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins and energy production process in the cells. It’s an important component in creating nerval conductors such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline and is essential for the proper functioning of the immune system and has other important roles in the body.
The meaning of the word ‘anemia’ is lack of blood. It might develop for various reasons, according to its factor.
According to epidemiological data from 2021, nearly 25% of people in the world suffer from anemia, with the most common reason being iron-deficiency – about half of all anemia cases worldwide.
This is diagnosed by a blood test. The criterion that points to anemia is a low hemoglobin level (HGB), which is mostly accompanied by reduced red blood cells (RBC). While these criteria might signal anemia, they’re not enough on their own to discover its cause. Further tests should be taken to determine the type of anemia.
Anemia is mostly common for nutritional deficits, with the main one being iron, as mentioned, but a B12 or folic acid deficiencies may also cause the production and function of the red blood cells.
We should point out that anemia might occur for non-nutritional related reasons. It might develop as a side effect of various chronical diseases, genetic defects or blood loss. Treating anemia requires diagnosis so we can match the right treatment.
It all starts at the blood manufacturing factory, which is the bone-marrow, where our blood cells are made – both white and red blood cells. In order for their manufacturing process to be properly completed, they need nutrients, mostly minerals and vitamins. A deficiency in each of these needed components may in time damage the blood cells’ production or function. Iron is one of the most important minerals for producing red blood cells. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world!
Slight anemia isn’t always noticeable and is often gradual. There are iron deposits in the blood (ferritin) but they also eventually deplete in case of an iron deficiency, or an issue with its absorption for any reason.
Iron-deficiency anemia can be manifested in symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, paleness, hair loss, shortness of breath (especially when strained), elevated heartbeat, dizziness, headaches or tinnitus.
You should perform blood tests an not self-diagnose according to the above symptoms, since they could also result from other issues and not necessarily anemia.
A diet low on iron is the main reason for this type of anemia. Vegetarians and vegans that don’t ensure a balanced diet might suffer from a deficiency, as may children and adults whose nutrition is not versatile enough or low on iron due to nutritional preferences or “picky eating.”
In some cases, the issue isn’t faulty nutrition but an absorption one. This could be caused by situations related to a faulty digestive system action, use of certain medications, the body’s fighting off an infection, heightened consumption of food or drink that interfere with iron absorption and other reasons.
Each case of iron-deficiency anemia, mostly if diagnosed in men, or in women experiencing menopause, requires a comprehensive medical inquiry for its reasons and proper treatment.
According to the World Health Organization, iron-deficiency anemia is common in fertile women, due to the monthly menstrual cycle, pregnancies and childbirth. Therefore, women should make sure to have regular blood tests, especially if they feel exhaustion, fatigue or experience hair loss. In case there is an anemia, please treated as soon as possible and fill up the reserves as per doctor’s orders.
Percentages are even higher in pregnant women. About 38% of women suffer from anemia during pregnancy, having to do with the elevated risk of premature births and the baby’s low birth weight.
Proper iron levels during pregnancy are important for the fetus’ development, especially its brain, which consumes a lot of oxygen. In fact, about 60% of the fetus’ oxygen intake goes to the brain. The baby’s iron deposits are also created during the pregnancy, which should serve it in the first months of its life.
For more on this see: Iron in Pregnancy: This is How You Prevent Iron Deficiency in Pregnancy
The first thing you need to do is increase its intake in your diet and have more animal-based and plant-based iron-rich foods.
While enriching your diet, the easiest and most effective way to increase your consumed iron levels is by taking an iron supplement.
Iron in food
Animal-based: red meat, chicken liver, turkey, eggs and fish
Plant-based: legumes, spinach, parsley, mangold, moringa, seaweed, peas, beets, apricots, figs, tahini, almonds, nuts, seed, teff, quinoa and oatmeal.
Eating vitamin C-rich foods help absorb iron.
Certain foods and beverages inhibit iron absorption, such as coffee, tea, dairy products and eggs. There are components in plant-based foods that bond to iron and diminish its absorption, such as nutritional fibers, phytic acid and oxalic acid, which can be found in a variety of vegetables, fruits, greens, legumes and seeds.
Let’s take one of the most iron enriched vegetables for example – spinach, which is also one of the vegetables with the highest levels of oxalic acid, interfering with iron absorption, so only a small dosage of it is eventually absorbed.
Despite that, you should still incorporate these plant-based foods to enrich your diet! They are a source for iron, even if it isn’t fully absorbed, and contain a multitude of other nutritional components that are good for you. One of the ways to reduce oxalic acid is by cooking them.
Did you know? Minerals aren’t destroyed in cooking or heat. You should however know that by cooking vegetables in water (like soup) the minerals transfer to the cooking water, so you should use them as well.
Iron is necessary for your health at every age and throughout your life, from infancy onwards. There are situations in which you required to supplement your iron levels with supplements. So, who needs to take those?
For more information see: Iron in Babies – Everything You Need to Know
The common supplements in the market might cause unpleasant side effects, such as constipation, diarrhea or stomachaches. The liquid supplements might stain your teeth or leave a metallic aftertaste. Thus, many people avoid taking iron supplements.
It exists! It’s called bisglycinate Iron, also known as “gentle iron.” It has advantages that make it one of the most popular iron supplements in recent years. Compared to most iron supplements in the market today, it does cause constipation and stomachaches, doesn’t clash with dairy products or coffee so you don’t need to take it separately. In addition, it’s effectively absorbed thanks to its unique form of bonding. There are dozens of clinical trails done of people, in various age groups, which prove the efficiency and safety of this component, including pregnant women and children.
In addition to this type of iron, there are various other types that might have diminished side effects, depending on their format or various bonding methods, such as chewable iron supplement, powdered iron supplement and more.
Avoiding taking iron supplements could be problematic, especially in cases of anemia and in pregnant women and babies. When understanding the importance of iron deficiency supplementation and its risks, you can find your own way! The important thing is not to overlook it.
One of the innovative formats that recently joined the supplements market is an iron supplement in the form of chewing gum. A great solution, easy to consume and persist, especially for those having trouble swallowing pills, such as pregnant women who sometimes suffer from morning sickness and have a hard time taking their supplements.
We wish you nothing but health,
The Supherb team