• Natalie Rogers, HHP

Iron Deficiency Anemia



Having healthy red blood cells is a major part in the homeostatic balance of the human body. These red blood cells have many important roles and help to carry out different functions throughout our life to meet our physiological needs. One of these functions is to carry oxygen to other tissues that are found in our body. According to the USCF Medical Center healthcare specialists (2002), “About 70 percent of your body's iron is found in the red blood cells of your blood called hemoglobin and in muscle cells called myoglobin.” ("Hemoglobin and functions of iron", 2002). To maintain a healthy and adequate amount of red blood cells, we need to maintain an adequate amount of iron. When there is a lack of iron in the body, there will be a lack of red blood cells. When a person is deficient in this essential nutrient, they are experiencing an iron deficiency called anemia. In this paper I will discuss my dietary and physical activity analysis and some research on how individuals can prevent or correct an iron deficiency by using nutrition, exercise, as well as complementary and alternative medicine protocols.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 237,000 people were discharged from the emergency room in 2011 with the diagnosis of an iron deficiency. When you look at the statistics of residential care and assisted living facilities, 9.6% of patients have an iron deficiency.


In 2014, there were 5,219 reported deaths that were a direct result from having an anemia disorder. (CDC, 2016). These statistics might not seem like much when you compare it to how many people live in the United States, but it is still rather alarming. The World Health Organization states that over 30% of the world’s population is anemic. That is an astronomical amount of people, over two billion to be specific. (WHO, 2015). Iron deficiency anemia is a deficiency that runs in my family from my mother’s side and typically only affects the women of my family. I have dealt with the iron deficiency anemia on and off for many years but it can be the worst during my menstrual cycle to where I need to take iron supplements during that time.

Curious as to how much iron I was getting from my daily diet, I decided to track the foods and beverages I was consuming over a time frame of three days. In order to accurately fulfill this task, I needed to find a way to track everything I was eating and having it broken down into all the nutrients based on percentages and the daily recommended iron intake amount. I use an iPhone and with access to the iTunes App Store, I came across this wonderful app called Wholesome. I went ahead and downloaded the Pro version of the app so I would have access to everything and can continue using it throughout the duration of my schooling with ACHS. On day one, my iron intake was only at 16% fulfilled. I did forget to take my daily multiple vitamin/mineral supplement on that day though. On day two, my iron intake was at 54% fulfilled. Which is definitely better than day one, but I am still not getting enough iron through my food consumption, as well as with the addition of the supplement that I take daily. On day three, my iron intake was only at 58% fulfilled. My multiple vitamin/mineral supplement only provides me with 18% of my daily iron intake. So on day two, only 36% of my iron was from actual foods that I ate, and day three the percentage is at 40% from food sources. Unfortunately, I did not get in any normal exercise like I usually do due to the fact I have been sick with bronchitis. In an article written for The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by John Beard and Brian Tobin (2000), they found that “…hemoglobin iron, when lacking, can profoundly alter physical work performance via a decrease in oxygen transport to exercising muscle.” (Tobin & Beard, 2000). I find this research information rather intriguing because I have never been told that having an iron deficiency anemia could affect my physical performance when working out. This does make sense because when you have a lack of iron in your body, your red blood cells are not reproducing quick enough which also means that there is a lack of oxygen being carried by the blood cells to other tissues in your body such as muscular tissues. Oxygen being carried to the muscular tissues is very important during a workout as to avoid injuries.

I have found that for someone like me who does not consume much meat, it is actually quite a struggle to make sure I am getting enough iron in my daily diet. My personal solution to overcome this setback was to temporarily add an iron supplement to my daily regimen and that has helped me tremendously for the time being, but I don’t want to “bandage” the problem, which is not getting enough iron from the daily foods I eat. It has helped with my fatigue quite a bit and I am able to do more throughout the day without becoming too tired, but it is still a temporary solution. It was recommended to me to start eating more citrus foods or drink a small serving of orange juice each day to better absorb the iron I am getting through my diet. In an article written by Medline Plus, it states that “Drinking 8 ounces (240 milliliters) of fluid with an iron pill is also OK.” (supplements, 2017).


I definitely need to work more on my own personal diet so I can eventually come off of the supplement and correct my deficiency. Taking supplements is not a replacement for eating healthy and nutritious foods. Focusing on my daily diet by paying attention to the labels on packaging and researching different foods will become part of my protocol for this.

A way that I can assure that I am getting enough iron on a daily basis and to avoid furthering my iron deficiency anemia disorder is to track my food intake for several days while eating foods I normally consume. I then will analyze this and see if the foods I’m choosing to eat are providing me with enough iron for the day. Foods that are rich sources of iron include lean beef, chicken, pork, fish, mussels, cabbage, beats, corn, leafy greens, broccoli, tofu, tomatoes, potatoes, lima beans, swiss chard, parsley, collard greens, asparagus, leeks, chili peppers, pinto beans, romaine lettuce, and many others. There is also an extensive helpful list of iron sources in the book The World’s Healthiest Foods written by award-winning author George Mateljan. According to his book, George Mateljan also states that the daily value (DV) for our iron intake is a total of 18mg. (Mateljan, 2015). But, you will want to look at the public health recommendations chart to see if this is an adequate amount based on your age. An article written by Medline Plus titled “Anemia Caused by Low Iron – Children” also gives some dietary sources of iron which include apricots, eggs, liver, molasses, oatmeal, peanut butter, prune juice, and raisins. ("Anemia caused by low iron - children", 2017). I found this information to be very helpful because it made me aware that the foods I am currently consuming in my meals are not very high in iron at all.


An example of how I plan to implement these foods into my meals is to add a small spinach salad as a side dish to my lunch and dinner meals. I also plan on adding more servings of steamed vegetables to my meals or having raw vegetables as a snack throughout the day. Secondly, I need to focus on shopping the perimeter of the grocery store when I am out doing grocery shopping. This can actually be quite the challenge to do since it is a lifestyle change to start shopping healthier. Typically, the perimeter of the store is where produce, dairy, and fresh meats are located. The more interior area of a grocery store is typically the aisles that are filled with processed and pre-packaged foods that lack in adequate amounts of essential nutrients. Also, it will be important for me to pay attention to my body and be aware of any unusual symptoms that I might be experiencing that are out of the normal for me. According to the NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, shortness of breath, brittle nails, cracks at the sides of the mouth, frequent infections, and poor appetite. ("What are the signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia? - NHLBI, NIH", 2011). Lastly, it is important to keep up with routine lab work done by a primary care physician or other medical doctor. Having routine lab work done can be a great way to ensure that your body is receiving the proper nutrients that it needs in order to maintain a homeostatic balance. I plan on seeing my primary care physician every few months to have routine lab work run to check for any problems I might be experiencing, but are unaware of.

To conclude, I feel that iron deficiency anemia should be a greater public topic than it seems to be and should be addressed more. For something that can become severe and have very dangerous symptoms, I am shocked at how common it actually is when you look at the statistics. I also personally feel that many people who are told by their physicians to take an iron supplement are not being told enough information about their deficiency and are not being guided in using different tools and modalities to correct this deficiency. There are several ways as I have shown, where you can implement complementary and alternative modalities into your daily life to help avoid or correct iron deficiency anemia. I will continue to work on my own protocols as well as working harder towards educating the general public about this widespread problem people are facing. I plan to have lab work run every few months to check my iron levels and track my progress and changes to see the effectiveness of my personal protocols. Keeping a food diary as well as writing down any symptoms I might be feeling or any physical changes to my body I notice will also be a helpful tool in combating my iron deficiency anemia.

References

Anemia caused by low iron - children. (2017). Retrieved 7 February 2017, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007134.htm

CDC,. (2016). Anemia or iron deficiency. Retrieved 7 February 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/anemia.htm

Hemoglobin and functions of iron. (2002). Retrieved 7 February 2017, from https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/hemoglobin_and_functions_of_iron/

Mateljan, G. (2015). World's healthiest foods, 2nd edition: The force for change to health-promoting foods and new nutrient-rich cooking. United States: G M F Pub.

supplements, T. (2017). Taking iron supplements: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Medlineplus.gov. Retrieved 17 March 2017, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007478.htm

Tobin, B. & Beard, J. (2000). Iron status and exercise. The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 72(2), 594-597. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/72/2/594s.full

What are the signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia? - NHLBI, NIH. (2011). Retrieved 9 February 2017, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ida/signs

WHO,. (2015). Micronutrient deficiencies. Retrieved 7 February 2017, from http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ida/en/

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