Anemia: The Most Common Nutritional Deficiency

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that results from too little iron in the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the U.S.

The condition is usually caused by blood loss, diet, or an inability of your body to absorb enough iron from food. Iron is a mineral that is needed by our bodies and it's part of all cells.

Anemia is a term that is usually used to describe a condition in which the blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells. Red blood cells are necessary to carry oxygen and remove carbon dioxide (a waste product) from the body. Iron is also part of the protein hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Too little iron in the body can affect many body functions, but most physical signs and symptoms don't show up until iron deficiency anemia occurs, which is why it's important that people at high risk for developing the condition get blood screenings.

Anemia Signs and Symptoms

Some common symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Decreased work and school performance
  • Slow cognitive and social development during childhood
  • Difficulty maintaining body temperature
  • Decreased immune function
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heart beats (arrhythmias)

At-Risk Groups

Young children and pregnant women are at higher risk of iron deficiency due to rapid growth and higher iron needs. Adolescent girls and women of childbearing age are also at risk for developing the condition due to menstruation.

If you suspect that you are anemic, see your doctor. She will give you a physical exam and prescribe blood tests to screen for the problem. Treatment will depend on the cause and severity of your anemia and may include a diet of iron-rich foods and iron supplements.

Preventing Anemia

Eating a healthful diet that includes the following iron-rich foods can help you stave off anemia:

  • Red meat, poultry, and fish
  • Iron-fortified breads and cereals
  • Peas, lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas
  • Tofu
  • Dried fruits, such as prunes, raisins, and apricots
  • Spinach and other dark leafy green vegetables

Unless your doctor prescribes iron supplements, avoid taking them because large amounts of iron can be harmful.

Sources:
"Anemia." Mayo Clinic. Web.
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/anemia/DS00321

"What Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia?" National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Web.
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ida/

"Iron and Iron Deficiency." Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Web.
http://cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/iron.html