I spoke to a friend today who mentioned she is ‘always’ anaemic. Anaemia is usually caused by iron deficiency or B12 deficiency (pernicious anaemia) which results in less oxygen being delivered to the cells of the body. Most people are aware that anaemia causes tiredness and shortness of breath. However, being anaemic also increases the rate of free radical damage to the cells of the body and this results in accelerated aging – something all of us want to avoid! Being low in iron or B12 also impacts on your immune system making you more vulnerable to all infections. Even mild anaemia can make you feel low in mood. Added to this anaemia may lead to hair loss, mouth ulcers, sore tongue and headaches.
Who is at risk of anaemia?
- Women with heavy periods
- Pregnant women and women post-birth who lost a lot of blood during delivery.
- Anyone with heavy blood loss e.g. from surgery or bleeding in the digestive tract from an ulcer or haemorrhoids
- Vegans or vegetarians
Those with poor digestion and the elderly who are more likely to have difficulty absorbing the B12 found naturally in food.
How is anaemia diagnosed?
Anaemia is usually diagnosed by a blood test assessing the body’s levels of B12 and haemoglobin (the iron containing pigment in red blood cells). If you are worried about anaemia it is also worth asking to have your ferritin levels checked. This will show how much iron you have stored in the body. Some people have normal haemoglobin levels but very low ferritin (iron stores). Low ferritin may cause you to have some of the symptoms of anaemia such as decreased energy, reduced immunity to infection, hair loss and low mood. The normal reference range for ferritin is from 12 to 150ng/ml for women and 12 to 300ng/ml for men. This is a huge reference range! Many nutritionists believe that a ferritin level below 50ng/ml is not ideal for optimum health and that dietary changes or supplements to bring your iron stores up above 50ng/ml will improve health and wellbeing.
Food sources for iron and vitamin B12
Best food sources for iron include liver, beef or lamb, pork, and the darker meat on poultry. Vegetarian sources of iron include dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits such as raisins and apricots and dark chocolate. Absorption of iron from vegetarian foods is improved when vitamin C rich foods are eaten at the same time.
B12 is found in all animal products – meat, fish, poultry and dairy products. B12 is added in to some foods such as marmite and breakfast cereals. B12, like iron, can be stored in the body and it may take some time before deficiency symptoms appear even if intake or absorption of B12 is low.
Iron supplements are often prescribed in the form of ferrous sulphate which commonly cause digestive problems such as constipation. Iron citrate is a form of iron which is much gentler on the tummy and less likely to cause side effects. A dose of 14mg of iron citrate a day for a couple of months maybe enough to rectify any iron deficiency anaemia.
It is important not to take iron supplements unless your ferritin or haemoglobin levels are low. So if you take supplements be sure to get your ferritin and haemoglobin levels re tested after three months to see how much you have improved. You cannot overdose from the iron found in foods. Finally, iron supplements are very poisonous to children! As few as five iron tablets could kill a child under 5 so it is very important to keep them away from kids.
If you have any questions about anaemia or another health issue feel free to call or email me to arrange a free 10 minute telephone consultation. Alternatively, book in for a full appointment.