Last weeks post was about Iron Overload – Hemochromatosis. This time we’ll talk about the other end of the spectrum – Iron Deficiency usually referred to as Iron Deficiency Anemia.
When Iron Deficiency isn’t addressed it will lead to Iron Deficiency Anemia.
What is it? This condition happens when the body doesn’t have enough iron which leads to abnormally low levels of red blood cells. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells that allows the cells to carry oxygen around the body). When your body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin the muscles and tissues cannot get enough oxygen to work effectively which then leads to anemia. Iron Deficiency Anemia is one of many types of anemia but is the most common worldwide.
This condition occurs when you eat a poor or restrictive diet, have inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut syndrome, heavy blood loss during heavy periods or internal bleeding, or when pregnancy increases the requirement of iron. Symptoms may depend on the severity of the anemia, how quickly it develops, age, and current state of health. Some people don’t show symptoms, but may indeed have an issue that needs to be dealt with especially if you exhibit any of the signs and symptoms mentioned next.
Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anemia: the most common sign is unusual tiredness (when the body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin your tissues and muscles are deprived of energy, the heart has to work harder to move more oxygen rich blood around the body, making you very tired); paleness (in the face, lower inner eyelid or nails caused by lower levels of hemoglobin, which gives blood its red color); shortness of breath (when there is too little hemoglobin oxygen levels will also be low and your muscles – including the lungs – will be affected creating a shortness of breath); headaches and dizziness (although less common an issue, headaches can be a symptom of low hemoglobin levels, causing less oxygen getting to the brain, causing pressure, headaches and dizziness); heart palpitations (the heart has to work extra hard to transport oxygen around the body which can lead to irregular or fast heartbeats, heart murmurs, an enlarged heart or heart failure); dry, damaged hair and skin (due to less oxygen in the blood the hair and nails can become dry and damaged, and sometimes can be a cause of hair loss); swelling and soreness of tongue and mouth (sore, swollen or strangely smooth tongue, and/or cracks on the corners of the mouth); restless legs (up to 25% of people suffering from restless leg syndrome have iron deficiency anemia); brittle, spoon-shaped fingernails (this is a rare side effect and is only seen in severe cases); strange cravings (involving cravings to eat ice, clay, dirt, chalk or paper because of a lack of iron in the system); strange food cravings (like sugar); feeling anxious (due to the lack of oxygen available in the body); cold hands and feet (less oxygen being delivered to the extremities can cause this); and more frequent infections (iron is needed to have a healthy immune system, without enough you are susceptible to more illness than usual).
Talk to your health care team if you think you might have iron deficiency anemia. A simple blood test will confirm if you have it or not. If confirmed it can be treated very easily by adding iron rich food to your diet, and/or by supplementation. You need to get your hemoglobin levels back to normal and replenish your iron stores in the body. By getting real food in your diet you can accomplish this very easily by eating: red meat, pork, poultry, dark green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale), dried fruit (raisins, apricots), peas, beans, seafood, iron-fortified foods, and nuts and seeds. Also eating/taking vitamin C will help your body absorb iron much better, so make sure to eat enough fruits and vegetables, also making sure to avoid iron inhibiting foods like tea, coffee, chocolate, and foods high in calcium (dairy products and whole-grains). Only take iron supplements if advised by your health care team as you could have things like stomach pain, constipation or diarrhea, heartburn, nausea and black stools. Luckily these side effects usually decrease once you find the right food and supplement combination to help with the deficiency.
Make sure that if you think you might have iron deficiency anemia that you get in touch with your health care team to get diagnosed. Then take appropriate action dictated by your health care team to correct this problem whether it be with diet or supplementation. A healthy diet should provide your body with enough of the correct nutrients to keep your body healthy.
Have an amazing day and week ahead.