What is iron deficiency (anemia)? Iron is a mineral which is necessary for the organism’s normal functioning. Iron is used by the body to produce hemoglobin, and this substance helps in carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body in red blood cells. Iron deficiency therefore slows down the transferrance of oxygen to the organs and tissues. This is a condition where the body does not have enough iron in its disposal.
This is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies and is the leading cause of anemia. Iron deficiency or anemia postpones the normal development of motorical abilities and mental functions in children. It can lead to premature labour during pregnancy and it also leads to inability for a person to perform any physical activity because the person experiences extreme physical fatigue. Iron from food is absorbed in the initial part of the small bowel, duodenum. Various diseases that affect the mucous membranes of the intestines affect the absorption of iron and lead to anemia. Reduced intake of dietary iron as a cause of anemia is common in infants and children. Their needs of iron are great because they are growing. Another important cause of iron deficiency is the existence of a parasitic infection and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.
Anemia is the most common blood disorder and it is caused by lack of iron. Without a sufficient amount of iron the body can not produce enough hemoglobin. This type of anemia, which is caused by iron deficiency can be treated with changes in nutrition and special diets. The signs of anemia are fatigue, exhaustion and body weakness, the declension of intellectual and working abilities at work or school, the inability to maintain normal body temperature and the immune system is extremely weakened. Any anemia that leads to a considerable lack of hemoglobin causes sluggishness and headaches.
Symptoms of iron deficiency:
In case of severe anemia, physical activity causes dizziness, breathing difficulties, chest pain (angina) and palpitations. Iron-deficiency (anemia) symptoms are also sores on the tongue and corners of the mouth, thin and fragile nails. In severe cases the person looks very pale and lifeless. The two main symptoms of iron deficiency are lack of energy and tiredness.
The treatment of iron deficiency:
If you have been diagnosed with iron deficiency, it is important to begin with the treatment immediately.
Depending on the level of your deficiency, your doctor may recommend dietary changes or supplementation. Iron supplements can be a great way to get your body’s iron levels back on track where they can then be maintained by dietary adaption. Some individuals have higher iron needs than others, meaning they may require more iron and/or iron from different sources.
The type of treatment depends on various factors such as age, general health condition and the reasons why you have iron deficiency. The treatment begins by taking products which contain iron, usually in the form of a food additive, but the diet must be adapted to the needs of people with iron deficiency, especially if the deficiency was caused by poor nutrition in the first place. After a certain period of taking iron additives, usually 3 months, it is necessary to check the status of hemoglobin and hematocrit for further treatment.
The causes of iron deficiency:
- Newborns and infants need more iron than adults and older children, and their nutrition does not contain enough iron sometimes
- Blood loss leads to loss of iron, so the iron must be compensated by following a special diet or consuming iron supplements . The loss of blood (and consequently iron) occurs during heavy periods, frequent voluntary blood donations and food allergies. Iron deficiency is also caused by the presence of parasite-tapeworms in the intestines, bleeding ulcers, cancer.
- Low iron absorption from the digestive system
- Excessive reduction of red blood cells (hemolysis) as a result of other diseases
How to prevent iron deficiency?
- Consume foods with high levels of vitamin C because it stimulates the absorption of iron. For example, drink a glass of orange juice with your meals.
- Whole grains are good sources of iron, but they also contain phytates, substances which slow down iron absorption, so it should not be eaten with other foods that are rich in iron.
- Limit the consumption of spinach and rhubarb oxalic acid, which is contained in these vegetables reduces iron absorption. Iron is more easily absorbed with vitamin c.
- Eat foods that contain copper, because it helps in the absorption of iron. These foods include cheese, seafood, liver, whole grains, green vegetables, apricots, cherries and dried figs.
- Do not drink tea, coffee, cocoa, Coca-Cola and wine with your meals because tannins in these drinks prevent iron absorption.
How is iron deficiency treated?
If you are diagnosed with anemia you will probably have to take iron supplement pills as a treatment. This treatment usually lasts for a couple of months and it is necessary not to stop taking these pills even if you feel better after a while. If your doctor discovers an exact cause of your anemia, perhaps another illness, you will have to treat that illness too. It is very important that you do not take these pills on your own because you may use it excessively and you could even get iron poisoning. This is also important because your iron deficiency may be caused by another illness that must be treated urgently. If your doctor recommends you to take iron pills it is important not to take them with caffeine, antacids, milk and tea. It is best if you take as much vitamin C as you can in addition to these pills. It usually takes 2 to 4 months of therapy to fully treat.