When she's low on iron

When she's low on iron

Risky shortage: Anaemia, the most common nutritional deficiency disorder in the world, affects women the most, states Anju Majeed

When she's low on iron
One in every two women in India is anaemic. Statistics from the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, says that more than 50% of children in 10 of the 15 states/union territories are anaemic, while more than 50% of women are anaemic in 11 states/union territories. Despite the strides the country has made in healthcare, anaemia continues to be a major concern for not just the medical fraternity, but also for the rapidly growing workforce in India.

What is it?
Anaemia is the most common nutritional deficiency disorder in the world. While it affects all age groups, the most vulnerable sections are children, pregnant women, and non-pregnant women of child-bearing age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anaemia affects 1.62 billion people, globally. Women need more iron than men to make up for the amount of iron they lose during their menstrual period. Around 1 mg of iron is lost for every day of bleeding. Iron requirement also increases significantly during the reproductive age, pregnancy, and lactation.

There are different types of anaemia, such as iron-deficiency anaemia (IDA), vitamin-deficiency anaemia, aplastic anaemia, etc. Out of these, IDA is the most prevalent type of anaemia worldwide, including India. While the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of iron is 17 mg/day for men and 21 mg/day for women, the average Indian balanced diet contains only 7-9 mg of iron/1,000 kcal.

Besides inadequate dietary intake of iron, the other factors responsible for the high prevalence of IDA in India are: defective iron absorption, repeated pregnancies and lactation, poor iron reserves at birth, timing of umbilical cord clamping, timing and type of complementary food introduction, and the frequency of infections in children.

Iron is an essential trace mineral found in every cell and is vital for both physical as well as mental wellbeing. It is estimated that 70% of the body’s iron is found in the red blood cells and myoglobin in muscles. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, check with your physician immediately:
  • Extreme fatigue and weakness
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Headache, dizziness
  • Brittle nails and pale skin
  • Poor appetite and tongue inflammation

So, how can one supplement iron intake?

  • Dietary intake: For starters, include more iron-rich food in the diet, such as oatmeal, beans, dry grapes, dark leafy vegetables (like spinach, dark chocolate, jaggery, peas etc). For vegetarians, soybeans have an amazing supply of iron. Even lentils such as white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas are good iron sources. Meat and seafood are also excellent sources of iron.
  • Natural iron supplements: Most iron supplements are synthetically sourced and may be unsafe for consumption. They could cause constipation, stomach upset, and in some cases, nausea and vomiting. However, there are naturally sourced iron supplements available in the market, which have been clinically evaluated, and have been deemed safe and effective. For example, there are supplements created from green gram through hydroponics process, which is used to enrich the beans.
  • Food fortification: Recently, food regulator, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) set up a scientific panel to frame final regulations on the fortification of foods such as wheat flour, milk, rice, edible oil, and salt. Fortification entails adding or increasing the content of essential micro nutrients in food items to improve their quality.

Anaemia not comes at a personal cost, but also a social cost. It affects half the workforce in this country. Iron-deficiency anaemia can be an impediment to economic growth in a huge way. It is time to find sustainable solutions to tackle this global crisis on human health and wellbeing.

(The author is a senior scientist, Sami Labs)