Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. About 20 per cent of women, 50 per cent of pregnant women and 3 per cent of men are iron-deficient.

What is iron-deficiency anemia?

Iron is present in all cells of the body and plays a key role in improving the quality of blood; it assists in the formation of hemoglobin and increases resistance to stress and disease.

Iron-deficiency anemia occurs when there is less iron in the body and can result in symptoms such as fatigue, headache, weakness, pale skin, dizziness, irritability and lack of concentration.

What are the causes?

Common causes are inadequate consumption of iron or inability to absorb iron from the diet, blood loss, either from disease or injury.

Low consumption of iron-rich foods.

Excessive dieting.

Increased iron loss due to menstruation.

Deceased iron absorption.

Increased demand for iron — women who are pregnant or who are breast-feeding may need 2-and-a-half times as much as the recommended daily allowance of iron.

Iron is necessary for:

Energy production.

Essential for many enzymes.

Important for growth.

Oxygenation of red blood cells.

Production of hemoglobin.

How much iron should be consumed daily?

The recommended daily allowance of iron for women is 18mg and for men is 8mg.

However, iron-needs vary based on individual life styles and specific conditions.

How is anemia treated?

It depends on what's causing the anemia. For example, if anemia results from losing too much blood, the cause of the blood loss will need to be treated. If anemia results from a diet that's low in iron, your doctor may recommend a change in your diet or prescribe iron supplements.

Facts about iron

Pregnant, breast-feeding and menstruating women, infants, children, athletes may require increased levels of iron.

Vitamin A can help treat iron deficiency because it helps the body use iron stored in the liver.

Heavy exercise may increase iron needs by up to another 1 to 2 milligrams day. This is due to iron loss in sweat.

Eat iron-rich foods with foods rich in vitamin C to aid in absorbing the iron.

Consume grain products (cereals, breads, pasta) that have been enriched with iron.

Avoid drinking black tea with iron-rich foods. The tannic acid in tea reduces the absorption of iron.

Did you know?

Vitamin C is needed in order to assimilate iron and can increase absorption by as much as 30 per cent. For example, consume a glass of orange juice with sautéed greens.

Iron-rich foods

Absorption of iron from food is influenced by multiple factors. One important factor is the form of the iron consumed. Heme Iron, found in animal sources, is well absorbed by the body; whereas non-heme iron, found in vegetable sources, is relatively less absorbed.

Heme iron sources

Clams

Pork Liver

Oysters

Meat

Fish

Chicken

Non-Heme iron sources

Leafy greens/ broccoli

Legumes

Fortified cereals

Prunes, raisins, apricots

Watermelon

If your iron values are low, can it affect your exercise performance?

Yes. Exercise can cause early fatigue. Anemia results in low red blood cell count and that means less oxygen is being delivered to exercising muscles.

Is exercise recommended?

Yes. The primary goal of exercise training is to improve cardiovascular endurance and stamina. Listen to your body – do as much exercise as your body can tolerate. And, progress gradually.

Along with adequate iron supplementation, exercise can improve immunity levels, decrease fatigue and improve overall wellbeing.

What are the exercise guidelines?

Intensity: Exercise at a low intensity. Begin at an intensity of 40 to 50-per cent of your maximal heart rate and progress incrementally over 4 to 5 months to 60 to 70-per cent of your maximal heart rate.

Duration: Initial sessions can last for 15-minutes, increasing to 30-40 minutes of exercise, per session.

Frequency: 3 to 5 days per week.

Caution: Always consult your physician for specific exercise guidelines based on your current health status. He may recommend iron supplementations which will increase your stamina.

The writer is a certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist.

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