What is Iron Deficiency?
Iron is a mineral which is important for numerous bodily functions. This includes the transport of oxygen in blood and proper functioning of the immune system. Iron deficiency can also lead to anaemia (low red cell count in the blood). It is critical that the underlying cause of Iron Deficiency is determined to allow appropriate treatment.
What are the causes of Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency occurs when the rate of iron which is lost from the body exceeds the amount which is absorbed. The common causes of iron deficiency include:
> Reduced iron intake: Iron Deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in Worldwide. Dietary iron primarily comes from red meat but also beans & lentils (to a much lesser extent). This is why vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk of Iron Deficiency.
> Blood loss: The cause of blood loss may be obvious in the case of heavy menstrual bleeding. However, often the blood loss isn’t apparent. Blood loss from from the gastrointestinal tract is the most the commonest cause of iron deficiency. Conditions such as peptic ulcers, or bowel (colon) polyps and/or cancers can lead to iron deficiency and anaemia. This is why Iron Deficiency is often investigated with procedures such as gastroscopy and colonoscopy.
> Reduced iron absorption: Certain condition such as Coeliac disease may be associated with reduced iron absorption. The definitive investigation to diagnose coeliac disease is a gastroscopy with small intestinal biopsies.
What are the factors which affect Iron absorption?
Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries, tomatoes) may increase the absorption of iron.
Certain foods may reduce the absorption of iron, including tannins (found in tea and coffee), phytates (found in wholegrains such as bran), phosphates (found in eggs), soy protein and calcium rich foods. Although this would not usually lead to iron deficiency.
Where are the symptoms of Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency can cause many symptoms, including lethargy/tiredness, shortness of breath, and reduced concentration. During pregnancy iron deficiency can cause problems for both mother and baby.
How is Iron Deficiency treated?
The management of Iron Deficiency involves two steps: diagnosis of the underlying cause, and correction of deficiency. The correction of Iron Deficiency may include: increase dietary iron consumption, dietary modification to maximise absorption, oral or intravenous iron supplements or blood transfusion (if anaemic).