Anaemia and diet

Step 1: Understanding the relationship between anaemia and food
Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia.

The most common cause of iron deficiency is chronic blood loss, usually due to excessive menstruation, or due to bleeding into or from the gut as a result of a peptic ulcer, gastritis, haemorrhoids or in children, worm infestation.

Increased demand for iron such as foetal growth in pregnancy, and children undergoing rapid growth spurts in infancy and adolescence, can also cause iron deficiency anaemia.

The symptoms of chronic iron deficiency anaemia include:

  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath and sometimes a fast heartbeat

Step 2: Adopting new healthy habits

  • Identify the underlying cause of iron deficiency anaemia, and treat the cause if possible
  • Treat the iron deficiency by eating iron rich foods and iron supplementation
  • Eat a well balanced diet

Step 3: Basic dietary guidelines for an iron rich diet and iron supplementation

The do's
1. Eat more iron rich foods. The very best sources of iron that is easily absorbed by the human body are:

  • Meat (especially organ meats like liver and kidneys)
  • Fish
  • Eggs (especially the yolk)
  • Cheese
  • Commercial breakfast cereals are fortified with easily absorbable iron so they can also make a good contribution.

2. Vitamin C improves iron absorption. Have a glass of fresh orange juice with your breakfast which could contain egg, the breakfast cereals, or a bit of fried liver.

3. You also need folic acid to assist in preventing anaemia. Folic acid is mainly found in green leafy vegetables, and you can also obtain a supplement if necessary.

4. Iron supplementation may help a lot. Iron sulphate tablets such as ferrous sulphate, taken in a dose of 300mg three times a day, are recommended. A dose of 300mg once or twice a day may be effective for prophylaxis of mild iron deficiency. The tablets should be taken between meals as iron is absorbed better on an empty stomach. However, this form of iron has side effects such as bloating, fullness and sometimes stomach pain and taking the tablets with meals may help to alleviate these side effects. Ferrous gluconate or ferrous lactate may have fewer side effects.

The don’ts:
1. Don’t go on a vegetarian diet without consulting your doctor and dietician.

2. Avoid iron-containing cocktails of vitamins since these generally do not contain enough iron and are expensive.

3. Drugs that reduce acid production by the stomach such as Cimetidine (Tagamet) may inhibit iron absorption and these tablets should not be taken simultaneously.

4. There are no quick fixes. It is necessary to continue iron therapy for four to six months to correct the anaemia and replenish stores.

Do you suffer from anaemia-relate fatigue? Take this quiz to find out.

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