Iron deficiency

Iron is a mineral needed by our bodies. Iron is a part of all cells and does many things in our bodies. Iron also helps our muscles store and use oxygen. Iron deficiency can delay normal infant motor function. Iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy can increase risk for small or early babies and Iron deficiency can cause fatigue that impairs the ability to do physical work in adults.

Iron deficiency is the most common and widespread disorder around the world. It affects a large number of children and women in developing countries and is the only nutrient deficiency that’s prevalent in industrialized countries. Iron deficiency anemia is when there is a decrease in red blood cells by not having enough iron. Two billion people, or 30% of the population are anemic where many are due to an iron deficiency. Also in poor resourced areas, malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infections are all factors to the high number of anemia in some areas. Iron deficiency and anemia reduce work capacity of individuals and populations. About 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women, and 3% of men do not have enough iron in their body. Iron is a key part of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood. Your body normally gets iron through diet and by recycling iron from old red blood cells. Without iron, the blood cannot carry oxygen effectively. Oxygen is needed for every cell in the body to function normally. Anemia develops slowly after the normal iron stores in the body and bone marrow have run out. In general, women have smaller stores of iron than men because they lose more through menstruation. They are at higher risk for anemia than men.

It is important to increase your iron intake by eating iron rich foods, have iron fortified foods and supplementation if needed.  Immunization and controlling infection is important. In developing countries, every second woman that is pregnant and about 40% of preschool children are estimated to be anemic. Symptoms include: brittle nails, decreased appetite in children, fatigue, headache, irritability, pale skin, shortness of breath, unusual cravings (Pica), and weakness.

Milk and antacids may interfere with the absorption of iron and should not be taken at the same time as iron supplements. Vitamin C can increase absorption and is essential in the production of hemoglobin. Pregnant and breastfeeding women will need to take extra iron because their normal diet usually will not provide the required amount.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • Eggs (yolk)
  • Fish
  • Legumes (peas and beans)
  • Meats (liver is the highest source)
  • Poultry
  • Raisins
  • Whole-grain bread

Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.

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