About 1 in 5 women, 3% of men, and 50% of pregnant women in the United States have iron deficiency anemia. Also, 7% of children ages 1-2 years and about 175,000 nursing home care residents suffer from low levels of iron.

  • A study released in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicate that anemia increases the risk of death in patients with chronic heart failure.
  • A recent study of elderly patients undergoing major non-heart surgery found that even mild anemia increased the risk of heart trouble or death after surgery.

Anemia can be temporary or long term and can range from mild to severe. Blood loss, not taking in or absorbing enough iron, increased demands for iron like pregnancy or rapid growth, and heavy periods may cause anemia. Regular use of aspirin or other drugs for pain, infections, severe injury, ulcers, colon polyps, colon cancer, and surgery can also cause anemia.

  • Blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia occur most frequently in people of African, African-American, and Mediterranean descent.
  • Thalassemia (Cooley’s anemia) is most frequently found in people of Mediterranean and Southeast Asian descent.
  • Autoimmune disorders, exposure to toxic chemicals, and kidney disease can affect red blood cell production. Certain chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory diseases can also interfere with the production of red blood cells.
  • Low levels of vitamin B12 or folate are common causes of vitamin deficiency anemia. Diabetics, those who are dependent on alcohol and people who adhere to a strict vegetarian diet may have anemia.

Initially, anemia can be so mild that it goes unnoticed, but signs and symptoms increase as the condition worsens. Headache, fatigue, weakness, pale skin, chest pain, dizziness, irritability, numbness/coldness in the extremities, difficulty in thinking, and low body temperature are the common symptoms. Shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat may be experienced.

Foods high in iron include, liver and other meats; seafood; dried fruits such as apricots, prunes, and raisins; nuts; beans, especially lima; green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli; oysters; tofu; whole grains; iron fortified breads and cereals.

  • Calcium can hurt absorption of iron. Eat and drink foods that help your body absorb iron such as orange juice, strawberries, broccoli and other fruits and vegetables with vitamin C.
  • Folate and its synthetic form – folic acid – can be found in citrus juices and fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, and fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin B-12 can be found in meat and dairy products.

Sources: U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, Mayo Clinic, Reuters Health Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, CDC – National Center for Health Statistics, National Anemia Action Council, NIH, and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals. For additional information, consult your physician.