Question: I’ve been feeling tired and weak recently and I think I may be anaemic. What symptoms should I be looking out for and what can I do if I am?
17 September, 2008 – 07:16
Answer: ANAEMIA is a reduction in the number of red blood cells and a lack of haemoglobin, (an oxygen-carrying substance), in those cells. It can be caused by loss of blood, an inability to produce enough red blood cells or an inherited abnormality. Of the four main types, Iron Deficiency Anaemia is the most common form and is caused by a shortage of iron usually through poor diet, blood loss, illness or infection.
Symptoms tend to include fatigue, lethargy, dizziness, poor concentration and a weak immune system. Women in particular are more likely to suffer from iron deficiencies because of blood lost during menstruation. If you suspect you may be anaemic you should always consult your GP before embarking on any course of treatment.
Once diagnosed, dietary changes and nutritional supplements can help to relieve the symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anaemia.
A lack of iron in the diet is often part of the problem, so ensuring an adequate supply of iron is important. The most absorbable form of iron, called “heme” iron, is found in meat, poultry, and fish. Non-heme iron is also found in these foods, as well as in dried fruit and leafy green vegetables, but is less absorbable unless eaten with certain foods. In particular, foods rich in vitamin C can double the rate of absorption. Acidic foods (such as tomato sauce) cooked in an iron pan can also be a source of dietary iron.
However, just as some foods improve absorption, others can reduce it. Foods high in fibre, for example, can reduce the absorption of iron by half. Likewise coffee and black tea both have an iron-blocking effect.
As far as nutritional supplements are concerned, supplementation with iron is the most effective way to resolve Iron Deficiency Anaemia. A common adult level is 14 – 18mg per day, which is usually taken for six months to a year (or until blood tests return normal) even though symptoms of deficiency should disappear much sooner.
In addition, vitamin A and iron together is thought to overcome iron deficiency more effectively than iron supplements alone, although you will need vitamin C (usually 500mg a day) for optimal absorption.