Plants are the basic sources of different nutrients. These nutrients allow your body to function and work properly. Those who eat plants and plant-derived foods are known as vegans. A proper vegan diet consists only of veggie and plant-derived foods such as stews, stir-fries, salads, veggies soups, etc. If you go for a vegan diet, it is an opportunity to include various nutrients in your diet. These nutrients come from the food you eat because fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables give you a great number of nutrients that help you to live a healthy life.
Iron deficiency; Anemia
Iron is an essential mineral for the growth and development of your body. The body needs iron for proper functioning. The main source of iron is found in animals and animal products. This makes you concerned about your vegan diet. If you want to have a vegan diet, you need to be careful about your intake of iron. Because a high deficiency of iron causes anemia.
Importance of iron
Iron needs to be taken in a proper amount to prevent many health problems such as anemia. Also, the body needs iron in producing hemoglobin and various hormones. The amount of iron intake is important; too little causes iron deficiency whereas too much causes iron poisoning.
Iron plays a major role for:
- Supporting metabolism of muscles
- Supporting the development of connective tissue such as cartilage and blood
- Supporting the development of the brain
- Helping to synthesize certain hormones
Iron also plays an important part in the functioning of the body which includes –
- Production of blood – iron is present in hemoglobin which carries oxygen from your lungs to the tissues in your blood. And this improves your heart, respiratory system as well as immune system.
- Physical health – collagen is a protein that is made of iron that helps your skin, hair, and nails to appear stronger and healthier. Iron is also found in the cells of the muscles which helps muscles to store and transport oxygen.
- Mental health – the right amount of iron improves our metabolism, which provides energy. Lack of iron leads to a deficiency called anemia. Its symptoms include weakness, fatigue, pale skin, headaches, etc.
If you do not get enough iron in your diet, you may lead to iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can cause worse health conditions. Due to this, it can risk your heart health as well as the overall risk of dying when it comes to the severe stage. You may also have a high risk of deficiency of iron after major surgery, serious injury, giving birth, a hemorrhage, etc.
What is Anemia?
Anemia occurs due to the deficiency of iron in your body. Iron helps to make hemoglobin in your red blood cells (RBCs). Hemoglobin is the protein in your RBCs that is responsible for carrying oxygen to all parts of your body. When your body does not have enough iron to make hemoglobin, it causes anemia.
Who gets iron-deficiency anemia?
It is found that anemia is found more in women than men. It is risky for the women who:
- Are pregnant – because you need more iron during pregnancy for the development of your unborn child.
- Have heavy menstrual periods – it is to be found that because of the heavy bleeding, you may develop iron deficiency anemia.
Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia
When we talk about the symptoms of anemia, it is very mild in its early stages. You cannot even notice them in the beginning. It can only be diagnosed with the help of a blood test. Although some of the symptoms that can be seen and observed in iron deficiency are as follows:
(The given symptoms can be observed in case of moderate to severe iron deficiency)
- General Fatigue
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Strange cravings to eat items with no nutritional value
- Tingling or crawling feeling in the legs
- Tongue swelling or soreness
- Cold hands and feet
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Brittle nails
Causes of Anemia
Anemia is caused by the deficiency of Iron. Iron deficiency is due to the following reasons –
- Improper iron intake – you need to take a proper amount of iron for growth and development, and it is essential for pregnant women. Young children need more iron in their diets which can be found in foods like meat, eggs, and some green leafy vegetables.
- Internal bleeding – you can find many medical conditions in which you cause internal bleeding like stomach ulcers, polyps in the colon, or colon cancer. The use of certain painkillers like aspirin also leads to stomach bleeding.
- Endometriosis – in menstrual periods you may lose heavy blood due to endometriosis. You are unaware of the occurrence of endometriosis because it is present in the abdominal region outside of the uterus.
- Genetics – there are various conditions that cause iron deficiency anemia such as TMPRSS6 mutation which causes more hepcidin in your body. This hormone can block your intestines from absorbing iron. 
- Pregnancy or blood loss due to menstruation – during pregnancy, many women face a deficiency of iron because of the heavy bleeding as well as the body’s requirement for iron increases to provide oxygen to the baby.
What are the risk factors that are related to iron deficiency?
When we consider the risk factors that can be related to iron deficiency, we come to know that; Anemia is a common problem that can be seen in any age group irrespective of gender and ethnic group. Both men and women, whether they are young or old, can face the deficiency of iron. Some people can be considered at a greater risk of iron deficiency. They can be categorized as:
- Women of childbearing age
- Pregnant women
- People with poor diets
- People who donate blood frequently
- Infants and children, especially those born prematurely or experiencing a growth spurt
- Vegetarians who do not replace meat with another iron-rich food
- Teenagers who have a greater need for iron in periods of rapid growth
- Adults over age 65
- People exposed to lead in their environment or in water
- High-performance and endurance athletes like marathon runners
Does a vegan diet contain iron-rich foods?
A vegan diet includes vegetables and plant-derived foods which include nuts, seeds, vegetables, etc. It is a myth that a vegan diet contains a lack of iron; however, you can find the most iron-rich foods in your vegan diet. You can consume an adequate amount of iron in your diet if you are a vegan.
How is iron-deficiency anemia treated?
The treatment of iron deficiency is entirely dependent upon the situation and the severity of the iron deficiency. In most cases, it is because of a lack of consumption of iron in your diet. Or it might be a chance that your body is facing problems in absorbing the iron that you consume. You can treat your iron deficiency in different ways. Some of them are listed below:
- Consuming iron supplements
You can treat your iron deficiency by consuming iron supplements. Iron tablets can help restore iron levels in your body. You can take these iron tablets on an empty stomach. Consuming them on an empty stomach will make your body absorb them efficiently. If they upset your stomach, you can take them with meals. You may need to take the supplements for several months. Iron supplements may cause constipation or black stools. Therefore, always remember to contact your doctors first to get the proper diagnosis.
- Inclusion of iron-rich food in your diet
You can treat your iron deficiency by consuming an iron-rich food diet. This type of diet will help you to prevent iron deficiency in your body. It can include:
- Red meat
- Dark green, leafy vegetables
- Dried fruits
- Iron-fortified cereals
Apart from these, vitamin C might help your body in the absorption of iron from iron-rich food. And if you are consuming iron supplements or tablets your doctor might suggest you take those tablets along with a source of vitamin C, such as a glass of orange juice or citrus fruit. You may also need to consider things you eat or drink that can lower your iron levels or decrease your absorption of iron, like black tea.
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