Iron Deficiency Anemia: It Affects More Than One Third of the Population in Some Countries

By Janice Jensen
Updated 2024-03-29 16:49:44 | Published 2021-01-26 16:35:05
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Iron Deficiency Anemia

Anemia due to iron deficiency is the most common form of anemia and the most common nutrition disorder worldwide. It represents a major public health problem affecting about 2 billion people, or up to 25% of the world population.

Although it mostly occurs in developing countries due to insufficient iron intake from food, it is also seen in developed countries. Most sensitive groups are pregnant women, infants, adolescents and females of reproductive age.

Progression of anemia due to iron deficiency can be divided into three phases, but very often medical experts do not distinguish these conditions. The first phase is a negative balance of iron in which the needs (or losses) of iron exceed the body's ability to absorb iron from the diet. During this period iron stores are reduced, but the clinical picture shows no changes, and this is the stage of iron deficiency without actual anemia.

When iron stores are exhausted, serum iron begins to fall, and the synthesis of hemoglobin decreases. That is a period of Fe-deficient erythropoiesis. Gradually there comes a decline of all clinical parameters (especially hemoglobin) reflecting the onset of anemia. People are experiencing classic symptoms of reduced oxygen transfer capacity (i.e. fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath or dyspnea). Due to the direct needs of body tissues of oxygen, a decreased supply of oxygen leads to chronic fatigue, which in turn leads to reduced productivity.

Iron intake from food is directly related to energy levels, and the risk of a deficit is particularly pronounced in cases when the need for iron is greater than usual, for example, during pregnancy, when the recommended intake of 18 mg of iron grows to as much as 27 per day.

Iron is present in food as heme and non-heme. Meat is the most significant source of heme iron, but the exact content varies depending on the type of meat (e.g., beef or lamb contain a lot of heme iron, while chicken does not include it). Meals based on plant foods contain non-heme iron that is absorbed in an amount of 5-10%, which means that people liable to this kind of diet are exposed to even greater risk.

The therapy uses different oral formulations of iron in combination with vitamin C, which demands carefulness, especially when it comes to children. These preparations are difficult for the digestive system because of iron taste and a feeling of heaviness in the stomach. High levels of free iron in the body are potentially toxic, especially for men (hepatocyte damage), and it needs to be considered that the iron is food to microorganisms.

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