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Iron Deficiency and Anemia:What to Look Out For and How it Can Affect Your Health

Anemia is a condition where your body doesn’t have enough iron to make hemoglobin, a substance in your red blood cells, that carry oxygen throughout your body. Red blood cells are responsible for helping oxygen cycle through your body, as well as carrying carbon dioxide back to your lungs to be exhaled.

Anemia is a fairly common condition and the effects of it can vary from minor to severe.

In many cases that are mild, a person may not even realize there is an issue, but severe anemia can lead to a lot of unpleasant symptoms that affect your quality of your life, such as chronic fatigue, unexplained bruising, headaches, restless leg syndrome, chest pain, unexplained hair loss or thinning, shortness of breath, PICA, dizziness, weakness, and chills.

The primary way to determine if you have an iron deficiency is to undergo a blood test, which can tell you if you may be low in red blood cells, or are anemic.

Anyone can develop anemia, but it is more common in those who may practice a vegetarian or vegan diet, frequently donate blood or are subject to frequent blood tests for another condition, excessive dairy intake, or may have other underlying conditions that affect red blood cell quality, such as stomach and GI ulcers, heavy or irregular menstrual cycles, or those who may have experienced significant blood loss through an injury or surgery.

Some of the most common signs of Iron Deficiency and Anemia are:

  • Brittle nails that may also appear spoon-like and concave.

  • Thinning or breaking hair.

  • Pale skin, or skin that appears paler than it should.

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Shortness of breath

  • Heart arrythmias

  • Blood pressure anomalies

People can develop iron-deficiencies for any number of reasons, but in many cases, it is diet related.

Unfortunately, in the Western World, many of us may not be getting the right nutrition due to overly processed foods that are low in nutrients—iron included. In other cases, there may be an underlying condition that affects the body’s absorption of iron, leading to an iron deficiency.

Iron-deficiency anemia develops over time, and can be broken down into 3 stages.

  • Stage 1: Iron stores become depleted. During this stage, the supply of iron that creates hemoglobin and red blood cells is dwindling, but may not present clinically yet.

  • Stage 2: Once iron stores are low, the normal process of making red blood cells is altered. You may develop “iron-deficient erythropoiesis” or otherwise known as “latent iron deficiency.” This stage causes your body to take from its store of bone marrow in order to create new red blood cells without enough hemoglobin.

  • Stage 3: At this point, iron-deficiency anemia develops because there just isn’t enough iron to make hemoglobin for red blood cells. During this stage, you may begin to experience some or all of the above symptoms, warranting iron supplementation or treatment to re-balance your system.

To combat iron deficiencies, a healthy, balanced diet can do wonders for not only your overall health, but work to prevent iron-deficiencies in the first place. However, this works best for people who are not suffering from an underlying condition or mal-absorption issue that may warrant further investigation from your doctor or other licensed medical professional.

Some ideas of iron-rich foods to incorporate in your diet are as follows:

  • Legumes such as peas, garbanzo beans, lentils.

  • Fortified breads and cereals such as whole-grain or multigrain breads or crackers, as well as wheat cereals.

  • Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, and kale, as well as other vegetables such as broccoli, beets, brussels sprouts and potatoes.

  • Lean proteins, such as beef, chicken, eggs, liver, fish and tofu or tempeh if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

  • Fruits such as raisins, dates, and figs.

If you think you may have an iron deficiency, or have started experiencing symptoms of anemia, get in touch with your doctor so that they may perform the necessary tests and treatment for your individual situation. Iron deficiency can be serious if left unchecked, but is often very treatable and reversible with lifestyle changes and supplementation. For further reading about iron deficiencies and anemia, click here

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