Ask anyone with anaemia and they can tell you that it is not an easy condition to live with, as it leaves you feeling easily fatigued. A condition in which the amount of haemoglobin or number of red blood cells is insufficient to meet the body’s physiological needs, anaemia is estimated to affect over 2 billion people worldwide. Women face a higher risk of anaemia, however, due to iron loss during menstruation and pregnancy.
The result of a wide range of causes including poor diets, genetics and chronic diseases, anaemia does not just affect one’s energy levels and productivity, but also the body’s immune system – leading to a host of other health issues. While there are several different types of anaemia, each with slightly different symptoms and conditions, iron deficiency anaemia is the most common – defined as a decrease in the total amount of iron in the body.
Getting enough iron for your body
Iron is required for the process of haematopoiesis, which is the production of red blood cells. It is also part of haemoglobin, the pigment of the red blood cells that binds to the oxygen and thus facilitating its transport from the lungs via the blood vessels to all cells throughout the body, as well as returns carbon dioxide from other parts of body to the lungs. Apart from red blood cells formation, iron is an essential trace metal for various functions in the body.
Red blood cells have average lifespan of 120 days in our body which means that red blood cells will degenerate after 4 months and old damaged red blood cells will be removed from the blood circulation. Therefore, our body needs regular supply of iron to continuously produce new red blood cells.
This then brings us to the question of how much iron do we need for such complex process like this.
How much iron your body needs is dependent on your age and gender. We will have different needs of iron at different life stages, for example, pregnant women require higher iron intake due to increase in total amount of red blood cells during pregnancy and women of child bearing age have higher iron needs compared to men due to monthly menstrual blood loss. It is always best to check with your doctors or pharmacists on meeting your iron needs.
Consuming a healthy diet packed with iron such as fruits and green leafy vegetables, as well as lean meats, fish, dry beans and nuts, is one way to ensure that your body gets all the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Vitamin C helps to increase iron absorption, therefore consumption of citrus fruit juices with meals is recommended. One should also avoid consuming coffee and tea during meals as these beverages contain tannins, which bond strongly with iron to form complexes that the body cannot absorb.
Another way to manage iron deficiency anaemia is to consider taking supplements, which can help replace iron loss in the body. While such supplements are widely available, it is advised to speak to your physician before you take any medication or supplements.
By making simple lifestyle changes, it is possible to manage your anaemia and improve your quality of life.
If you suspect that you have the condition, make a visit to your doctor today to start living healthier, fuller life.
- (WHO) FAO/WHO (2002). Iron. In: Human vitamin and mineral requirements. Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation. FAO, Rome; pp 195-221.
- Ekiz C, Agaoglu L, Karakas Z et al. The effect of iron deficiency anemia on the function of the immune system. Hematol J. 2005;5(7):579-83.
- Pasricha SR, Drakesmith H, Black J et al. Control of iron deficiency anemia in low- and middle-income countries. Blood. 2013; 121(14): 2607-17.
- The Importance of Iron. Irontherapy.org. http://www.irontherapy.org/iron-essentials/importance-iron..2014. Accessed April, 1, 2015.
- Blood Basics. American Society of Hematology. http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Basics/.
- National institute of Health. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Accessed April 20,2015.