Iron and anemia

Anemia is closely related to iron. But what kinds of iron can we ingest naturally and what kind of iron can we take as supplements. By examining the causes, symptoms and treatments of anemia, we can get a better idea of the big link between iron and anemia.

Anemia symptoms

Some common symptoms of anemia include fatigue, lethargy, weakness, poor concentration, and frequent colds. A peculiar symptom of iron-deficiency anemia, called pica, is the desire to eat unusual things, such as ice, clay, cardboard, paint, or starch. Advanced anemia may also result in lightheadedness, headaches, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), irritability, pale skin, restless leg syndrome which causes unpleasant sensations in the legs with an uncontrollable urge to move them, and getting out of breath easily.

Where is your iron kept?

The majority of your body’s iron is found in hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen for delivery to your cells. Hemoglobin is a highly complex molecule that has one atom of iron at its center. That one atom is what gives blood its red coloring.

A common metal, an invaluable health resource

After your bone marrow makes red blood cells they circulate in the blood for about 120 days, at which time they grow old and are destroyed. Thus, each day, nearly 1 percent of our red blood cells are destroyed and 25 mg of iron is released from their hemoglobin. However, the majority of this iron is conserved and reused. This is a bit odd since our environment provides abundant iron, leading some experts to theorize that at an earlier evolutionary epoch, iron may have been scarce.

Iron is lost by bleeding

Unlike other essential minerals, iron is not excreted in the urine, which serves to conserve it even further. However, iron is lost from the body by bleeding (including menstrual flow), from the gastrointestinal tract, in bile which is eliminated in feces, and in the shedding of mucosal and skin cells, and in hair. In males and non-menstruating females, the daily loss of iron is approximately 1.0 mg. Iron loss in menstruating females runs from 1.4 to 3.2 mg per day, depending on the blood volume of the menstrual flow. To remain healthy, the daily loss of iron, however slight it may seem, must be made up by a sufficient daily dietary intake otherwise you may suffer anemia symptoms.

Anemia symptoms

People who are iron deficient (anemic) are often pale, irritable, and tire easily. Other anemia symptoms can include increased blood pressure, dizziness, foggy thinking, muscle weakness, heart palpitations, impaired immune function, restless legs, itchy skin, hair loss and ringing in the ears.

Anemia treatments

Many women are advised to take an iron supplement at some point during their lives, either during pregnancy or due to heavy bleeding during menopause, which can cause iron-deficiency anemia. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen) can cause chronic gastrointestinal bleeding that can also result in enough blood loss to cause anemia. Women with anemia tend to bleed more readily, which only exacerbates the problem.

Taking iron supplements as an anemia treatment

Taking an iron supplement as an anemia treatment supplies the bone marrow with the material it needs to make hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells. However, iron deficiency may be caused not only by blood loss, but also by poor iron absorption. There are two factors that need to be recognized in regard to iron absorption. One is the benefit of heme iron, such as found in meat. Heme iron stimulates iron absorption. It only takes a small amount of meat in the diet (such as in Asian diets) to stimulate good iron absorption. Those folks who totally abstain from meat are denied that benefit.

How to help your body absorb iron as an anemia treatment

The second factor in iron absorption is vitamin C. The addition of a small amount of vitamin C with meals increases iron absorption from food six-fold and will help control anemia problems. The total daily amount of vitamin C needs to be only about 500 mg per day to create this benefit. Milk, on the other hand, inhibits iron absorption, which is one more reason among many to stay away from it.