There are several forms of anaemia but this article deals with iron deficiency anaemia. Within the body iron is used to make red blood cells, and these cells help store and transport oxygen.A lack of iron leads to a reduced number pf blood cells which in turn means that less oxygen is stored and moved around the body which leads to organs and tissues not getting the amount of oxygen they need for optimal function.
Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common form of anaemia. The causes of iron deficiency anaemia are numerous and varied. Stomach ulcers, heavy and/or prolonged menstrual flow and simply not taking enough iron into the body due to a deficient diet are the most common reasons for the development of the condition. usually the symptoms come on slowly as iron levels drop, reducing haemoglobin levels in the blood.
The most common symptoms include:
- tiredness and lack of energy (lethargy)
- shortness of breath
- noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- a pale complexion
Less common symptoms include:
- hearing sounds that come from inside the body, rather than from an outside source (tinnitus)
- an altered sense of taste
- feeling itchy
- a sore or abnormally smooth tongue
- hair loss
- a desire to eat non-food items, such as ice, paper or clay (pica)
- difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- painful open sores (ulcers) on the corners of your mouth
- spoon-shaped nails
Iron supplements can be taken to increase the levels of iron in the blood. Taking a more natural route involves increasing the amount of iron in the diet. Severe cases may require a blood transfusion to boost haemoglobin levels.
Food sources rich in iron include:
- dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress and curly kale
- iron-fortified cereals or bread
- brown rice
- pulses and beans
- nuts and seeds
- meat, fish and tofu
- dried fruit, such as dried apricots, prunes and raisins
Using cast iron cookware seems an unlikely source of iron but it has been proven that small amounts of iron transfer from the pans to the food. Certainly this isn’t enough to cure anaemia, or even prevent it if the condition is caused by an ongoing problem rather than a dietary deficit but if cast iron cookware is used constantly and the diet is almost adequate then the amount of iron ingested could well be enough to keep a person out of deficit.
If left untreated anaemia makes you more likely to contract infections and illnesses as lack of iron affects the immune system. Abnormal heartbeats and even heart failure can occur due to protracted anaemia.
Pregnant women need to take special care to ensure their iron levels are adequate. Lack of iron during pregnancy is proven to lead to birth defects, primarily spina bifida, an incomplete closure of the tissues that cover the spinal cord. In severe cases the spinal column is open to air allowing for often fatal infections a direct route into the meninges that surround the spinal cord. these children often have physical impairments and many require the use of a wheelchair for mobility.
Whatever the future holds as individuals we need to be sure that we are getting an adequate diet, and when this isn’t possible then supplements should be taken to prevent deficiency diseases.