Iron-deficiency anemia, also known as anemia, is the most common type of anemia in the United States, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Iron-deficiency anemia causes you to have too few red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen around your body via your bloodstream. Without enough oxygen, you can feel tired and weak, experience shortness of breath when you exercise or are exposed to cold temperatures, or have heart palpitations. Fortunately, iron-deficiency anemia isn’t difficult to diagnose or treat.
Although iron deficiency is considered a worldwide health problem, it's important to note that not all cases of low iron are related to anemia. Although there are different types of anemia, iron-deficiency anemia is easily recognized by most people due to its common symptoms. However, if you believe you have an issue with low iron levels but don't have any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor before diagnosing yourself. Your doctor can provide blood tests that will help determine if you have true iron deficiency or another type of anemia.
There are several causes of iron deficiency, including vegetarian diets, pregnancy, gastric bypass surgery, blood loss (such as from heavy periods), and drinking alcohol. A less common cause is taking medication for stomach ulcers or heartburn—these drugs can reduce how much iron your body absorbs. If you have any of these conditions, or risk factors for them (like drinking a lot of alcohol), talk to your doctor about getting screened for iron deficiency. Just because you’re not experiencing anemia doesn’t mean that it isn’t affecting your health in other ways! For example, low levels of iron can affect cognition, while long-term deficiencies can lead to cardiovascular disease.
• Make sure you get enough calories: The RDA for women ages 19–50 is 18 mg/day; men ages 19–50 should aim for 8 mg/day. For pregnant women ages 18–50, 15 mg/day is recommended.
• Get your fill of red meat: Our bodies absorb animal sources of heme iron better than plant sources like spinach and beans. That’s why beef, turkey, chicken breast, and pork are all great sources of iron.
• Go nuts: Nuts are another excellent source of dietary iron—you’ll find them in granola bars as well as trail mixes. They’re also a good source of protein and healthy fats. Just remember that peanuts aren’t nuts at all! They’re legumes. So if you have a peanut allergy or follow a gluten-free diet, be sure to check labels carefully before eating products containing peanuts.
• Sneak some iron into your smoothies: Adding kale or Swiss chard will add flavor to your drink while boosting its nutritional value! Just make sure that you only use a small amount of these strong-tasting greens, or else they may overpower other flavors.
Although iron supplements are one way of treating iron deficiency, there are other methods for getting more of it into your body. These include eating more iron-rich foods such as red meat, green leafy vegetables, beans, and dried fruit. If you have a good diet then it’s unlikely that you will develop anemia unless some sort of blockage or bleeding is present in your gastrointestinal tract.
Eating iron-rich foods helps prevent anemia, but if your diet is poor or you’re in a state of constant blood loss then it may be necessary to take supplements. Talk with your doctor about what form of iron is best for you and how much you should take. It’s recommended that anyone who needs supplements takes between 50% and 70% of their required dose every day for three months before trying to stop taking them. Doing so ensures that your body will have enough reserves to last through times when you are unable to eat enough iron-rich food. But don’t forget: Most people can get more than enough of what they need by eating a healthy balanced diet.
If you’re suffering from iron deficiency, there are plenty of ways you can treat it at home. Take a look at these home remedies for anemia, including some useful tips on how you can improve your diet and fight your way back to good health.