Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia and it develops when the iron level in our body is not enough for sufficient amount of haemoglobin synthesis. Haemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells and the main function of haemoglobin is to transport oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. In our body we have approximately 3.5 gms of iron and this range will vary with respect to age, gender. The 2.5gm of iron out of which 70% of iron is inside the haemoglobin which is inside the RBC(red blood cells) and the remaining 30% of the iron which is not used to manufacture haemoglobin is known as tissue iron. So iron plays a very important role in the production of haemoglobin and RBC. Iron is also required for the production of myoglobin which is present inside the muscles.
There are various causes of iron deficiency anemia, the first cause is due to the increase in the physiological demands. Let’s take an example for this: children who are at a growing stage particularly from six to twenty four months, the growth of child is very rapid so demand for RBC will increase and if the demand is not fulfilled it can lead to deficiency of iron in child. Other examples: in women, during pregnancy there is a increased demand of iron as body uses iron to make extra haemoglobin for her and for the baby, heavy menstrual bleeding is often a cause of iron deficiency anemia due to excessive bleeding and the body’s iron stores become depleted.
Other cause of iron deficiency anemia is due to pathological blood loss. Example: cancers of stomach and colon can lead to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, bleeding of peptic ulcers. Now, the most common cause of iron deficiency anemia is due to the nutritional deficiency and it develops when micronutrient such as iron needed for RBC formation is not present in adequate amounts. Some of the common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include extreme fatigue, headache, dizziness, weakness, pale skin, chest pain, brittle nails, poor appetite and unusual cravings for non food items such as dirt, ice.
The food sources for iron are plant based and animal based. The animal based sources (heme iron) include fish, meat, chicken, egg yolk etc. The plant based sources are legumes, soya bean, oatmeal, brown rice, green leafy vegetables etc. Plant based source of iron is known as non heme iron and their absorption is at a lesser rate as compared to heme iron. A piece of advice for vegetarians, indulge vitamin c rich foods to enhance the absorption of iron.