Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) is associated with celiac disease (CD), and in some cases is the first indicator that an individual has CD.
Anemia, in general, is any condition in which the blood is unable to deliver adequate oxygen throughout the body. There are several types of anemia, each with a different cause.
Not only is IDA the most common type of anemia, it is also the most common and widespread nutrient deficiency in the world, according to the World Health Organization. More than 30% of the world’s population are anemic.
In addition to nutrient deficiency due to inadequate nutrition and resources, IDA can be brought on by diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and celiac disease.
IDA is a serious health condition with significant and severe consequences such as compromised pregnancy in women of child-bearing age, impaired physical and cognitive development and increased risk of morbidity in children. IDA is also attributed to a significantly reduced work productivity in adults with this issue. Shockingly, anemia contributes to 20% of all maternal deaths. (WHO, Micronutrient Deficiencies)
In the case of celiac disease, impaired nutrient absorption due to damaged small intestine villi leads to poor iron uptake, thus to IDA.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia
Fatigue is the most prevalent symptom of all types of anemia. With IDA, symptoms vary with the severity of the anemia. In fact, in mild cases, individuals with IDA may be symptom-free. In addition to fatigue, in more dire cases of anemia, individuals may experience shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, coldness in hands and feet, pale skin, chest pain and weakness.
Very serious cases of anemia may cause heart problems like irregular heartbeats (called arrhythmias), heart murmur, an enlarged heart, or even heart failure. This is because a lack of adequate hemoglobin-carrying red blood cells causes the heart has to work harder to move oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. You can learn more about signs, symptoms and diagnosis of IDA from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Iron Rich Foods
- Dark, leafy greens (spinach, collards)
- Mollusks (oysters, clams, scallops)
- Tuna (if canned, make sure you purchase “water packed” and if you have soy allergy, be sure to read the ingredients label as many canned tuna has added soy; low-sodium Star Kist brand is soy-free.)
- Chicken breast
- Turkey or chicken giblets
- Lean beef
- Lima beans
- Dried beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Iron-fortified breakfast cereals (Like Rice Chex, which are gluten-free.)
- Dried fruits (apricots, peaches, raisins, dates, etc. – but be careful if you’re watching calories, as dried fruits are calorie dense foods; also be aware of cross-contamination with nuts or wheat.)
Consuming iron-rich foods along with foods that provide plenty of vitamin C enhances the body’s ability to absorb iron in other foods.
Vitamin C Rich Foods to Aid Iron Absorption
- citrus (oranges, grapefruit, lemon, limes, etc.)
- red, yellow, orange peppers
Heme vs. Non-Heme Iron Sources and Absorption
Some literature reports egg yolks are good for boosting dietary iron; however, information about the Iron Avidity Diet on the Iron Disorders Institute (IDI) website reports otherwise.
Here is what current research reveals egg yolks and iron:
Heme iron, found in meat, fish, poultry and shellfish, is the easily absorbed by the body.
The iron found in eggs, dairy products and plants is non-heme iron and is not as easily absorbed by the body (but does still provide a source of iron).
The IDI lists certain foods that impede iron absorption. Those are non-heme iron foods.
The problem with non-heme iron foods is some of them also contain phytates.
Phytates are antioxidant compounds found in certain foods, mainly cereal grains and legumes. Phytates have the ability to bind to other compounds such as iron, calcium and magnesium, and carry them out of the body before they can be absorbed through the intestines, thus rendering them ineffective as a nutrient.
In other words, the phytates in legumes will bind iron eaten at the same time (and the iron in the legumes, too) and carry it out of the body unabsorbed.
Studies have shown eating vitamin C rich foods with the non-heme iron foods can reverse some of the phytates’ anti-absorbing action.
It appears that regardless of what one finds on the phytate issue, red meat is still the #1 way to consume absorbable heme iron, and eating this along with foods rich in vitamin C are even better for absorption.
Please visit the Iron Disorders Institute for more information on IDA.