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Two billion people suffer from anemia

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Iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In developing countries, 50 percent of pregnant woman and about 40 percent of pre-school children are estimated to be anemic. Two billion people, over 30 percent of the world's population are anemic. 

Infections such as tuberculosis, HIV, hookworm, schistosomiasis and malaria are known to exacerbate the occurrence of anemia.  Anemia is expensive to the overall productivity of an individual, family, community and nation.  The good news is that the treatment and prevention of anemia is both inexpensive and effective.

Understanding iron deficiency anemia

Iron is a required component in hundreds of enzymes and functions in the human body.  One of the most important functions is that iron aids in the transport of oxygen throughout the body.  Oxygen is required for proper function and healing.  Iron is also involved in the energy metabolism of the body.  Energy metabolism simply means how your body is able to produce, use and store energy for the current and future bodily needs.

An individual with iron deficiency anemia should increase their iron intake.  This can be done through eating iron-rich foods, eating foods that are fortified with iron and iron supplementation.  Both animal and plant sources can be high in iron.  The amount of iron that your body can absorb will depend on the type of iron and the type of other nutrients consumed in the same meal.  

Food sources of iron

Animal sources of iron contain a form of iron called heme iron.  Heme iron is the form of iron that is most readily absorbed.  Non-heme iron is found in plant sources.  Good sources of heme iron include beef, chicken, eggs, fish and certain organ meats.  Heme iron is absorbed two to three times more efficiently in comparison to non-heme iron.

Non-heme iron found that is found in vegetable and plant sources are affected by other nutrients in that meal. Consuming heme iron has been found to enhance the absorption of non-heme iron.  One of the most important nutrients to consume with plant-based iron is foods that contain vitamin C.  Vitamin C activates the absorption of non-heme iron.  Vitamin C can be found in broccoli, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, peppers and tomatoes. 

Good sources of non-heme iron include spinach, green peas, sweet potato, walnuts, beans and prunes. Several studies have shown substances such as coffee, tea and some legumes to decrease the absorbable amount of non-heme iron.  

Iron deficiency complications

Anemia contributes to 20 percent of all maternal deaths according to WHO.  Iron deficiency also contributes to poor brain and physical development, extreme fatigue and an increased risk of death in children.  Initially, iron deficiency anemia can be mild and can go undiagnosed until the symptoms intensify. The following are the most common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia:

Shortness of breath
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Cold hands and feet
Brittle nails
Fast heartbeat

The most common nutritional disorder is a condition that can be effectively treated and prevented.  The foods that we eat control healing, function and performance of the body.  Ensure that you eat a balanced diet with both heme and non-heme iron. Consult with your healthcare professional for additional natural foods, supplements and fortified foods that are right for you.  

Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement. 

Facebook: Cory Couillard
Twitter: Cory_Couillard

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