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FAQ About Iron Deficiency and Anemia


1. Why does the body need iron?

Iron is a vital component of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all body cells. Iron is also essential to the formation of hemoglobin and myoglobin, which carry the oxygen in the blood to tissues and muscles. Iron makes up part of many proteins and enzymes in the body.

2. What are good dietary sources of iron?

The best food sources of easily absorbed iron are animal products. Red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes and fortified cereals are all good sources of iron. Iron from vegetables, fruits, grains, and supplements is harder for the body to absorb. Mixing lean meat, fish, or poultry with beans or dark leafy greens at a meal can improve absorption of vegetable sources of iron up to three times. Foods rich in vitamin C also increase iron absorption.

3. What is anemia?

Anemia occurs when the number of red blood cells, or the amount of hemoglobin in the blood, drops, limiting the amount of oxygen the blood can carry. As a result, the amount of oxygen available to the cells in the body also decreases. Without adequate oxygen, cell building and repair slows, as does muscular activity and other functions.

4. What are the primary symptoms of anemia?

Established anemia produces a variety of symptoms, including weakness, fatigue, dizziness, coldness of the extremities, and pallor changes, such as pale lips and eyelids. In women of childbearing age, cessation of menstruation is a common symptom.

5. What role does iron deficiency play in anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia, affecting approximately 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women, and 3% of men. The condition is progressive in nature, developing slowly as the body's normal iron stores become depleted.

6. What's the recommended daily allowance of iron?

According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended dietary allowance for iron by age group is as follows:

Age Males (mg/day) Females (mg/day) During Pregnancy (mg/day) While Lactating (mg/day)
7 to 12 months 11 11 N/A N/A
1 to 3 years 7 7 N/A N/A
4 to 8 years 10 10 N/A N/A
9 to 13 years 8 8 N/A N/A
14 to 18 years 11 15 27 10
19 to 50 years 8 18 27 9
51+ years 8 8 N/A N/A

7. Who is at risk for developing iron deficiency anemia?

Groups at high risk include women of childbearing age (blood loss through menstruation); pregnant or lactating women with increased iron requirements; infants, children and adolescents, who experience rapid growth at different points in their development; and anyone with inadequate dietary intake of iron. In general, women have smaller stores of iron than men and have increased loss through menstruation. In men and postmenopausal women, gastrointestinal blood loss is a common cause of anemia, often associated with ulcers, use of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), or certain types of cancer (esophagus, stomach, colon).

8. Where can I learn more? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published comprehensive recommendations on preventing and controlling iron deficiency in the U.S. According to the CDC, iron deficiency affects nearly 8 million adolescent girls and women of childbearing age, and approximately 700,000 young children (ages 1-2). The entire CDC report, Recommendations to Prevent and Control Iron Deficiency in the United States, is available online at www.cdc.gov.


Resources

  1. Anemia and Iron Status. CDC National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion - online section on nutrition & physical activity.
  2. Anemia. In: Baltch JF, Baltch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 2nd edition. Avery Publishing Group: Garden City, New York, 1997.
  3. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron. From the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements. http://ods.od.nih.gov.
  4. Tell Me About ... Iron. www.chirofind.com.

 



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Date Last Modified - Wednesday, 17-Dec-2008 12:43:00 PDT