World Health Day is tomorrow (April 7th) making this the perfect time to talk about iron deficiency, which happens to be the world’s most common nutrient deficiency and one that affects people of all ages. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that 2 billion people are anemic, many due to iron deficiency. That’s more than 30% of the world’s population!
Who’s At Risk?
Though anyone can be iron deficient, women and children have the highest risk. According to the WHO Global Database on Anemia’s report, 42% of pregnant women, 30% of non-pregnant women, and 47% of children ages 0 to 5 were anemic at the time of publication (2005). These figures are estimated to have increased since then.
Understanding who has a heightened risk, and why, can help you stay on top of iron deficiency for you and your family.
Babies and Children
During the final trimester of pregnancy, the baby begins to store iron for their first six months of life. If born prematurely or with a low weight, a baby’s iron stores may be low, increasing their risk of iron deficiency.
Other things that can increase a baby’s risk of ID and IDA are:
- Breastfeeding for a prolonged period
- Being introduced to whole milk before the age of 12 months (this replaces the iron-fortified formulas and cereals they need to accommodate the increased need for iron as they grow)
- Drinking 600 mL of milk or more a day (this may cause children to eat less iron-containing foods)
Older children are also at risk of ID and IDA because:
- Children aged 9 months to 3 years experience rapid growth spurts and often don’t get enough iron in their diet to keep up with their increasing needs
- Children age 10 through puberty need more iron to accommodate rapid growth spurts, and girls are at an especially high risk because of blood lost during menstruation
As soon as a young lady starts menstruating, that blood lost each month increases her risk for ID and the longer and heavier the periods, the greater the risk (ie. menorrhagia). Later on, once a woman becomes pregnant, she deals with an entirely new risk because her body will essentially need double the iron to accommodate her growing body and her baby.
Other Risk Factors
While women and children have the highest risk of ID, there are other risk factors that may put you or those you love at risk. Here are other at-risk groups to consider:
Vegetarians and vegans: Their diets lack foods that are rich in heme iron, which increases the risk of ID. Unlike heme iron that is found in meats and fish, the non-heme iron found in vegetables and legumes aren’t as well absorbed by the body. Learn more →
Adults and children with celiac disease: In celiac disease, gluten causes damage to the lining of the gut which interferes with the body’s ability to absorb iron and other nutrients from food. Learn more →
People who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders: GI conditions that cause internal bleeding or interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron have a higher risk of ID.
Chronic kidney disease: Kidney disease and dialysis both increase the risk of ID because of poor iron absorption and blood loss. Learn more →
Blood donors: According to Canadian Blood Services, a donor loses 225 mg – 250 mg of iron for each blood donation (500 mL). Thus, the risk is even higher for frequent donors. A recent report also discusses the importance of iron supplementation after blood donation. Learn more →
Although iron deficiency is quite common, it is preventable and treatable.
So, I will leave you with this: If you or one of your family members falls into one of the at-risk groups or is experiencing symptoms related to iron deficiency, speak to your doctor about screening for low iron right away!
Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs