Anaemia continues to be the major public health hazard in India. Though this nutritional deficiency disorder can affect anyone but more prevalent in children, pregnant women and women in the child bearing age. In India, anaemia is one of the major causes for most of the maternal death. It is not only women and kids, men also get affected by anaemia.
Anaemia is a condition that develops when there is iron deficiency or lack of healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin in the blood. Lack of mineral iron in the blood is the common cause of this red blood cell disorder. Iron is needed to produce the protein haemoglobin that help red blood cells carry oxygen, which is vital to make energy and carry out different functions.
What causes Anemia?
Mostly anaemia occurs due to inadequate supply of nutrients like iron, folic acid and vitamin B12, proteins, amino acids, vitamins A, C, and other vitamins of B-complex group. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia. Lack of vitamin B12 or a condition in which our body is not able to absorb vitamin B12, lack of folic acid or difficulty in absorbing folic acid, inherited blood disorders, blood loss due to haemorrhoids, ulcers etc are the other causes for anaemia. Diseases like HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, kidney disease, cancer etc can also cause anaemia.
Why is it a major concern for women?
Women are likely to develop anaemia for several reasons. Menstruating women lose blood every month during their periods. Iron is needed to make new blood that can replace the lost blood during the monthly menstrual cycle. Women who have long periods and who experience heavy bleeding are at higher risk. It should also be noted that women need extra iron during pregnancy for the proper development of the baby. Pregnant women need 50 per cent more blood than normal women. During childbirth, women lose blood. All these factors make anaemia a major concern for women.
Similar to women, anaemia can cause frequent health problem among men as well. Though male anaemia does not affect the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition, it may impact on the overall work performance and quality of life.
Food vs anaemia
Lack of nutrition in the food is a major reason for anaemia in all age groups. Our food habits have changed and we mostly depend on the packaged processed food to reduce the cooking time. These foods are low in nutrition. Reduced consumption of green leafy vegetables and fruits high in nutrients also adds to the problem.
Although today there are multiple supplements available to make up for iron deficiency, consuming only these supplements may not help to avoid anaemia. Supplementation of only iron and folic acid is inadequate to prevent or correct anaemia among adolescents. Other haemopoietic (blood forming) nutrients are equally important in managing it. In addition to iron, there are other nutrients that prevent or reduce anaemia and these include vitamin B6, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, vitamin C, folate and proteins. These nutrients are actively involved in the process of blood formation (haemopoiesis).
How to prevent and what foods to consume?
There are different types of anaemia- Iron deficiency anaemia, vitamin deficiency anaemia, Aplastic anaemia, Autoimmune hemolytic anaemia, Pernicious anaemia and Sickle cell anaemia. Among all the above, iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type.
There are some types of anaemia that cannot be prevented. But with proper diet women can certainly prevent or reduce the chances of iron deficiency anaemia and also vitamin deficient anaemia.
Here’s a list of vitamins and minerals that needs to be part of our diet
Iron: Food like red meat, beans, lentils, leafy vegetables, iron-fortified cereals and dried foods like raisins, apricots are rich in iron. These days we get iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas.
Vitamin C and Vitamin B 12: Diary products, meat, soy, fortified cereals are rich in vitamin B 12. Citrus fruits like orange, grapefruit and tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries are rich in vitamin C.
Folate: There are many food that are rich in the nutrient folate and its synthetic form folic acid. Green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, avocado, lettuce, sweet corn and citrus fruits are some folate rich foods.
Anaemia usually goes unnoticed unless there is any serious health issues. It is mostly recognised in women during their pregnancy tests or other screenings, but is overlooked among men. Therefore, it is the responsibility of everyone to think about consuming nutritious food to prevent anaemia related to iron or vitamin deficiency.
By Dr. Shafalika SB, Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Yeshwanthpur