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Everything You Need To Know About Anemia

Posted: September 5, 2020

Statistics indicate anemia to be the reason for about 20-40 % maternal deaths in the country, but women still lack information to tackle this condition. 

Anemia is the most prevalent nutritional deficiency disorder in the world. While it affects all the age groups, preschoolers, pregnant women and non-pregnant women of childbearing age happen to be at the highest risk. Adolescent girls are equally vulnerable to iron deficiency anemia due to the onset of menstruation as there is blood loss every month and the iron consumption does not go in sync with the amount of iron required on daily basis i.e the RDA (Required dietary allowances).

If the National Family Health Survey Statistics is to be believed, every second Indian woman is suffering from anemia and one in five maternal deaths is directly due to anemia. Even then so many women are unaware of anemia and it’s effects on their body. In fact, it is estimated that about 20-40% of maternal deaths in India are due to anemia. Lack of awareness about anemia is considered to be a prime reason for the neglect.

What is anemia?

Anemia is a condition that occurs when the red blood cells do not carry enough oxygen to the tissues of the body.  According to WHO, anemia is a condition in which the Hemoglobin (Hb) content of blood is lower than normal as a result of deficiency of one more essential nutrient regardless of the cause of such deficiencies.

The primary cause of anemia is due to an inadequate supply of nutrients like Iron. Folic acid, Vitamin B12, proteins, amino acid, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and B complex vitamins like Niacin and pantothenic acid as these are required for maintenance of Hemoglobin levels in the body. Hence, each of these nutrients becomes extremely important for the health of a woman.

What are the levels of Hemoglobin , that indicate towards Anemia?

-Mild anemia means Hemoglobin levels ranging from 10-11.9g/dl

Moderate anemia is means Hemoglobin levels ranging from 7.9.9g/dl

Severe anemia means Hemoglobin levels less than 7g/dl

Why is Anemia prevalent in India?

Various studies suggest that Anemia is rampant in a developing country like India due to the following-

-Poor eating habits (Not eating enough fruits, vegetables, legumes, and foods rich in Vitamin C)

-Lack of access to healthcare (affordability is an issue).

-The difficulty is diagnosing Anemia (most of the times it goes unnoticed OR undiagnosed)

-Iron supplementation programs in India haven’t been successful so far (due to lack of awareness about Iron as an important micro-nutrient).

Why is there a need to review the nutritional needs of Indian women?

Women are more likely to suffer from Nutritional deficiencies as compared to men and you could say this has a lot to do with a women’s reproductive biology, In short menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, perimenopause, and Menopause.

Symptoms

The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia could be mild at first and most women would come to know only after a routine blood check-up.

The symptoms of moderate to severe anemia are as follows:

-General fatigue

-Cold hand and feet

-Pale skin

-Shortness of breath

-Cravings to eat unusual items like ice, dirt, and clay.

-Dizziness

-Brittle nails

-Headache

-fast or irregular heartbeat

-Tingling sensation in the feet

-Tongue soreness

-Weakness

The best way to correct anemia is to add foods rich in iron and vitamins which are essential to hemoglobin and red blood cell production.

Iron is of two types:

  • Heme Iron- It is found in meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Non-Heme Iron- It is found in plant food sources and foods fortified with iron.

The recommended daily intake for an average Female adult is 18mg/day.

Micro-nutrients required by Indian women

Iron

India has nearly 355 million menstruating women and almost 50% of them are known to be Iron deficient. Low Iron levels indicate Fatigue, poor immunity, poor performance at school and work, and dull-looking skin. Since Iron is required for healthy red blood cells, including enough iron-rich foods in the diet becomes imperative.

Sources of Iron :

Green leafy vegetables(Spinach/kale/beet green/romaine lettuce)

-Nuts (pistachios/cashews/Pine nuts)

-Garden cress seeds

-Liver

-Lamb meat

-Seafood ( Tuna/salmon/halibut/sardines)

-Dried fruits

-Beans (Kidney beans/chickpeas/black eyed beans/soybean/peas)

-Legumes

-Amaranth

-Oats

-Quinoa

-Flaxseeds

-Sesame seeds

-Pumpkin seeds

-Hemp seeds

-Sunflower seeds

VITAMIN B 12

Vitamin B 12 is required for the development of healthy red blood cells. Hence, lack of Vitamin B12 deficiency may again lead to fatigue, tingling sensation in the extremities, weight loss, and menstrual issues.

Sources of Vitamin B 12:

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Lamb

FOLIC ACID

Folic acid is another nutrient required by women in order to make healthy red blood cells. The absence of enough folic acid in the body can predispose you to anemia. Hence, adding enough folic acid to the diet is important.

Sources of Folic acid:

  • Green leafy veggies
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Nuts
  • Enriched bread, cereals, and other grains.

VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is required for the absorption of iron in the body. Not having enough Vitamin C in the body can lead to lesser absorption of Iron ultimately leading to Iron deficiency in women. Hence, the diet needs to have foods rich in Vitamin C.

Sources of Vitamin C:

  • Orange
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Grapefruit
  • Bell peppers
  • Guava
  • Strawberries
  • Papaya
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower

Tips to prevent Anemia

  • Avoid consuming Iron-rich foods with foods that might block it’ absorption in the body- Caffeine (Tea, Coffee), foods high in oxalates, and Calcium-rich foods (Calcium and Iron don’t go hand in hand, hence best avoided).
  • Make sure to eat a variety of heme as well as non-heme iron foods to increase your iron intake.
  • Add enough Vitamin C to the diet, because as stated above not enough Vitamin C would lead to lesser absorption of iron in the body.
  • Include foods rich in Beta-Carotene, apricots, carrots, peach, beet, mangoes, sweet potatoes, tangerine, corn, tomatoes, etc.
  • Try and consume heme and non-heme iron together, because, this can increase your iron uptake and absorption in the body.
  • Additionally, don’t forget to add Vitamin B12 and Folic acid-rich foods to the diet as these aid in red cell production in the body.

Image source: Unsplash

A Nutritionist, Clinical Dietitian, Speaker, health/fitness blogger, online show host, menu planner, menstrual health,

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