Anemia is a common health condition, and although there are different causes and categories of anemia, one of the leading causes is due to iron deficiency. With the many supplements and nutrition information that we have available to us, there is no reason why people should not be able to manage their iron deficiency anemia and overcome some of the many symptoms that come along with the disease.
What is IDA (Iron Deficiency Anemia)?
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when depleted iron levels begin to cause the production of hemoglobin to come to a halt. This consequent low level of red blood cells is what causes anemia. When iron levels are low, one may begin to see symptoms, however true deficiency occurs when iron levels are almost completed depleted. In order to check your levels, you must go to your physician and get a proper blood test.
The function of iron
Iron is responsible for producing an important material in the body called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin helps oxygen travel through the blood to all parts of the body, including the lungs and muscles. Another function of iron is to produce enzymes that help with the transfer of energy, digestion and nerve function. It also serves a purpose in supporting our immune system, keeping us healthy and properly energized.
Causes and symptoms of IDA
Low levels of iron can be caused by both low intake of iron sources as well as the body’s inability to absorb the iron that is consumed. When the levels are depleted, hemoglobin is no longer produced, which can lead to anemia. Some people whose iron levels are depleted will not necessarily get anemia. Anemia occurs when red blood cells are low and are therefore, unable to carry oxygen through the blood sufficiently.
Besides low levels of iron, other related causes of IDA may be heavy menstrual bleeding, ulcers, hemorrhoids, certain cancers, menopause and celiac disease.
Consequences of IDA
People with full-blown IDA may experience some of the following symptoms:
Breathlessness when doing physical activity
Loss of appetite
Lowered immune system
Even people without IDA that simply have low iron levels may experience milder symptoms of fatigue, weakness, headaches, etc. For this reason, it is even more important to have this conversation with your doctor if you believe that you may be at risk.
Vegetarians and Vegans
Because many people get their dietary iron from a meat source, there is the potential of there being a hole in the vegetarian and vegan diets, where members of these groups may not be getting sufficient amounts of iron that they need. There are, of course, plenty of vegan options, however, you must educate yourself on these and make sure that you consume an adequate amount of these.
The type of iron that is derived from meat is called haem iron, while the kind that comes from vegetables and other non-meat sources is called non-haem iron. One of the differences in the types of iron is the rate at which they are absorbed. Some sources say that there actually is no significant difference between the prevalence of IDA in vegetarians compared to meat eaters. Although there is the threat, many health-conscious vegans and vegetarians are able to supplement their diets with the proper nutrition in order to get sufficient amounts of iron.
The recommended daily doses for iron is often dependent upon gender and age:
Adult women from the ages 19 to 50: 14.8 mg per day
Post-menopausal women: 5-7 mg per day
Men 19+ : 8.7 mg per day
As you can see, iron deficiency can be more of a concern for women, than it is for men. This is why their recommended dosage is much higher. One of the reasons for this difference is because men tend to be able to store more iron for longer periods of time than women are able to.
Educating yourself on health conditions like iron deficiency anemia is very important, especially because it is so common amongst the population. Even further, within sub-groups like vegetarians and vegans, people have to be even more cognizant of the causes and threats of IDA to begin with. In a later article, we will discuss the different sources of iron, as well as how to get the most absorbent power out of these sources. Until then, you are in a good position knowing the basics about IDA.