Losing weight rapidly? You might be suffering from anemia

  • Dr Anurupa Roy, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 06, 2015 19:54 IST

More than 50% of women in India are anemic. Often this deficiency goes unnoticed with many blaming their ill-health on poor work-life balance.

It's time you check up on your lack of knowledge and lifestyle choices. Iron deficiency can occur if you lose more blood cells and iron than your body can replace or if your body does not do a good job of absorbing iron. Research has shown iron deficiency anemia can affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and infection. What's the solution? Eat enough food with iron in it.

"Amount of diet in iron should be maintained at all cost by all age group," says Dr B Padate, MD ( Med), MRCP (UK), FRCPath (UK), CCST(UK), consultant in Hemato- oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation, P D Hinduja Hospital and MRC, Mumbai, IN.

It's easier said than done. We suggest you identify the problem at the core. Not all food items that are rich in iron might be easily absorbed by your body, except for Heme-iron. You can find it in shellfish, red meat, poultry, and fish. On an average, people absorb between 15-35% of the heme-iron they consume (Insel et al 2003).

Non-heme iron, which is less easily absorbed by the body, is found in vegetables, as well as in egg, milk, and meat. Sources of non-heme iron often contain phytates, which attach itself to iron and carry it through the digestive tract unabsorbed. Vitamin C may be a particularly powerful iron absorption enhancer. One study reported that adding just 63 mg of vitamin C to a meal rich in non-heme iron yielded a 2.9 times increase in iron absorption (Fidler et al 2009).

While Vitamin C is good for your body, know what acts as an iron-absorption inhibitor? Phytic acid found in grains, legumes, and other plant foods; egg protein from both the white and the yolk; minerals like calcium, zinc, magnesium, and copper and tannic acid found in tea. This does not mean that one should stop eating them, but it would do good to avoid eating in excess or with iron rich foods.


Symptoms of iron deficiency

Cracking of the corner of your lips, inflammation and a shiny reddish appearance of the tongue, white fungal patches on the tongue, painful tongue or ulcers inside the mouth are all symptoms of iron deficiency. In infants and young kids, signs of anemia include poor appetite, slow growth and development, and behavioral problems.

Other serious symptoms in the body may be felt as chronic fatigue, pale conjunctiva, nail beds or palmer creases, along with shortness of breath, breakage of nails with a spoon shaped appearance, bone pain, tingling of toes and fingers, rapid weight loss, palpitation with no obvious reasons, loss of concentration, headaches, severe hair fall are strong indicators of iron deficiency.

Other probable causes and its dangers

Loss of blood due to menorrhagia (heavy menstrual cycles) and metrorrhagia (frequent menstrual cycles) can lead to anemia. In fact, pregnant mothers with poor diet have a higher risk of developing anemia. It can lead to complications, particularly during and after the birth. They may also develop postnatal depression. Research suggests babies born to mothers who have anemia are more likely to be born prematurely, have a low birth weight and do less well in mental ability tests.

There are few obvious pathologic conditions too like long-standing intake of drugs like aspirin, NSAIDs, and corticosteroids which can cause iron deficiency anemia. These drugs can cause gastric mucosal irritation or peptic ulceration, resulting in chronic blood loss.

Cancer, upper gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding and chronic lower GI bleeding can also contribute towards the deficiency. In this case, the patient will complain of fresh blood in the stools.

Simple measures and knowledge about your health along with a detailed discussion of any persistent abnormality or changes with your physician will help you lead a better life.

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