Iron Deficiency Anaemia is a common nutritional deficiency. Women with heavy periods( mennoraghia), fibroids or endometriosis are prone to it. Pregnant women may also develop anaemia due to the baby needing sufficient blood supply while it grows and develops.
Other causes of iron deficiency anaemia:
- Low dietary intake of iron
- Deficiencies in Folate, Zinc, Vitamins C and B12
- Excess intake of dairy, alcohol, coffee and tea which block iron absorption
- Digestive problems: malabsorption, inflammation, infections
- Medications: aspirin, anti-acids , calcium supplements
- Toxic exposure : Lead
- Autoimmune disease
- Hormonal imbalance
Symptoms of low iron include but are not limited to fatigue, breathlessness after a little activity like climbing stairs, weakness, dizziness when getting up, pale and sallow skin, headaches, sensitivity to cold, depression, lack of motivation, disinterest in activities, pica (eating ice, soil and non food items) and lowered immunity.
The core function of iron is to make haemoglobin, the protein in Red Blood Cells(RBC) that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Women who have Iron deficiency anemia have depleted iron levels, low RBC count and therefore less oxygen available in the body hence symptoms of fatigue and breathlessness, heart palpitations plus the appearance of pale and sallow skin.
This deficiency makes them prone to infections due to a lack of iron which in normal levels is immuno-protective.
INFECTIONS AND IRON DEFICIENCY
Iron is a mineral that must be kept in balance, it is essential in many metabolic processes in the body. Too little or too much iron can increase risk and rate of infection as well as disease progression. Both conditions can also lead to anemia, it’s important to know the root cause of iron deficiency.
Iron-rich cells are an environment which bacteria and viruses need. They seek iron replete cells to bind onto for multiplication and nutritional sustenance. In event of an infection/inflammation the body makes metabolic adjustments to deprive the pathogens of iron, this is called Nutritional Immunity. This protective measure is achieved in two ways; limiting the assimilation of iron in the gut and sequestering free iron to organs like the liver as a means to starve the pathogens of iron and contain the infection.
If you have iron deficiency anaemia, this may sound like a ‘good’ problem because the less iron you have the lower risk of catching the flu virus or stomach bug right? Not quite. It seems Nutritional Immunity is not triggered when there is insufficient iron to begin with because the body is already lacking Iron for its core functions and so pathogens may still have ‘unlimited’ access to the little iron you have putting you at higher risk infection and disease progression. Iron Withholding(IWDS) is a Defence System your body employs during an infection when there is normal (or too much) iron reserves. It’s main goal is to withdraw all iron and leave only what is needed for basal function. By withholding iron, it is common to notice a slight decrease of iron and haemoglobin levels, in sick individual rendering them slightly anemic, this form of anaemia is infact immuno-protective, a deliberate response by your body to contain and fend off infection and inflammation, also known as Anaemia of Chronic Disease. This response can happen within minutes to days as an acute response to an infection or over time due to chronic inflammation from stress; physical, chemical, emotional or digestive. Depleting iron reserves in the body must not be ignored, it is cardinal to find the root cause because treatment of Iron Deficiency Anaemia and treatment of Anaemia of Chronic Disease are vastly different. In the former Iron supplementation is necessary while in the latter iron supplementation may worsen the condition.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH ANEMIA I HAVE?
Blood tests are the most sure way of telling which type of anemia you have.
Haemoglobin (Hb), Ferritin, Total Iron Binding Capacity(TIBC) and Transferrin Saturation(TS%) tests will help distinguish between the two. TS% in particular is a distinguishing factor between Iron Deficiency Anaemia and Anaemia of Chronic Disease.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO
Assess your menstrual cycle, diet and lifestyle habits.
Do you have heavy bleeding or irregular periods? Do you have digestive problems like leaky gut, malabsorption, blood in your stool or ulcers? Are you constantly stressed? Adrenal fatigue symptoms can feel similar to iron deficiency symptoms. Are you overweight? Do you smoke? Are you on blood thinning medications? Understanding what maybe triggering either condition will help you make make an informed decision about how to treat the anemia, nevertheless,
Balance your hormones– irregular/heavy periods, fibroids, endometriosis are signs of hormonal imbalance.
Eat a wholesome diet rich in antioxidants– free radical damage is increased in anaemia, antioxidants like citrus fruit, will help reduce oxidative stress.
Get more air– oxygen is life for you and all your cells. Open windows and get plenty of fresh air, spend more time outside and exercise.
If you have been diagnosed with Anaemia of Chronic Disease do not supplement with iron. Treat the root cause and the anaemia should self correct. If the anaemia does not improve after clearing the infection of inflammation have your doctor do further investigations.
If you have Iron Deficiency Anaemia eat more foods that are in iron, zinc, folate and magnesium such Leafy green vegetables, beetroot, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Depending on severity you may need to supplement with a blood builder together with a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
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