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Health and diet

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Iron is essential for healthy functioning of the body. Haemoglobin, a pigment present in every blood cell is rich in iron and is instrumental in transporting oxygen from the lungs to the tissues of the body. A very common nutritional deficiency in children is iron-deficiency anaemia (IDA), which is caused by lack of iron in the blood.

According to a survey of WHO, 80% of the world’s population suffers from iron deficiency while 30% have IDA. This leads to low oxygen supply to tissues, which hampers the development of the immune system. A weak immune system makes the body vulnerable to diseases. The recommended level of iron can be met through dietary intake. This intake should be increased during pregnancy to meet the need of the foetus.

Sources for iron

Iron is abundant in nature and the recommended level can be met by including the sources given below:

Non - vegetarian sources

Eggs (especially egg yolks), Liver, Lean red meat (especially beef), Oysters, Poultry, dark red meat, Salmon, Tuna

Vegetarian sources

Dried fruits: prunes, raisins, apricots
Legumes: lima beans, soybeans, dried beans and peas, kidney beans
Seeds: almonds, Brazil nuts, 
Vegetables:broccoli, spinach, kale, collards, asparagus, dandelion greens, 
Whole grains: wheat, millet, oats, brown rice

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Iron Supplements

Though the recommended iron level can be achieved through dietary intake, several iron supplements like iron (II) fumarate, as well as iron sulphate can also be taken. Iron chelates with amino acids and forms another common iron supplement. The cheapest and the most common amino acid used for chelation is glycine. The iron supplement formed is iron glycinate. Elemental iron, or reduced iron, are also added to regular foods like breakfast cereals or enriched wheat flour.

Iron deficiency symptoms

Iron deficiency is manifested slowly through the following symptoms: 

  • Dizziness or a feeling of being lightheaded
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Rapid heartbeat or a new heart murmur
  • Irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Pale skin and mucous membranes
  • Some people with IDA may experience pica, which is a craving for non-food items like paint chips, chalk, or dirt.

Populations Affected due iron deficiency


The most affected population are the women who lose a lot of blood during their monthly periods. Approximately, 1 in 5 women of childbearing age suffers from IDA. Moreover, during pregnancy, women require twice the amount iron in their diet than normal recommended levels.

Young children:

Infants and toddlers 6 - 24 months of age require a lot of iron for their growth and development. Premature as well as babies with low-birth-weight are at a greater risk for IDA.

The other categories of children at risk for IDA are:

Infants older than 4 months fed on breast milk and are not given iron-rich solid foods or iron supplements
Low-income children with poor nutrition
Children with lead in their blood
Infants who are fed with cow's milk before 1 year of age

Adults with Intestinal Bleeding

Adults who have bleeding ulcers or colon cancer and suffer from intestinal tract bleeding are at risk for IDA. People who use medicines like aspirin that can cause intestinal bleeding are also prone to IDA.

Other Adults

Other adults who are on kidney dialysis, vegetarians, and older adults with poor diet habit are at risk for IDA.


What Causes Iron-Deficiency Anaemia?

The lack of iron in body causes IDA. The level of iron can be less due to the three reasons:

     1. Blood loss, either from disease or injury.
     2. Lack of iron in the diet.
     3. The iron in the diet is not absorbed.

However, IDA can also develop when iron requirement of the body increases, such as during pregnancy.

Loss of Iron through Blood Loss

In general, when blood is lost, iron is lost. The several reasons for blood loss are:
  • Bleeding from very long or heavy menstrual periods as well as from childbirth
  • Bleeding fibroids in the uterus
  • Bleeding ulcers, colon polyp, or colon cancer
  • Regular use of aspirin or other pain medicine such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Hookworm infection
  • Urinary tract bleeding
  • Severe injuries
  • Surgery
  • Frequent blood drawing


Effects of excess Iron in diet

Too much iron is also detrimental for the body. A genetic disorder named hemochromatosis affects the body's ability to control the amount of iron that is absorbed.

The treatment involves:

Low-iron diet.
No iron supplements.
Phlebotomy (blood removal) on a regular basis.

Iron poisoning can be caused by swallowing too many iron supplements.

Symptoms of iron poisoning include:
Fatigue, Anorexia, Dizziness, Nausea, Vomiting, Headache, Weight loss, Shortness of breath, Greyish color to the skin


Recommended Iron intake

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA):
The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of iron for men is 10 mg and for women is 15 mg.
Blood donors, pregnant women as well as infants may require iron supplements. 

Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine

The recommendations of the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine are:
Infants and children
Younger than 6 months: 0.27 milligrams per day (mg/day)
7 months to 1 year: 11 mg/day
1 to 3 years: 7 mg/day
4 to 8 years: 10 mg/day

9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
14 to 18 years: 11 mg/day
Age 19 and older: 8 mg/day

9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
14 to 18 years: 15 mg/day
19 to 50 years: 18 mg/day
51 and older: 8 mg/day

However, pregnant as well as lactating women may need different amounts of iron. 

Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: April 24, 2012