Iron deficiency without anemia is a symptom complex that is a result of a reduced content of total body iron. It has a prevalence of 2 to5 percent in adult men and women around the world. It can cause fatigue, affect your attention span, your alertness and your learning ability. It can also cause a decrease in appetite, or anorexia, depression, palpitations and vertigo. There are two types, “pre-latent” and “latent” iron deficiency. In “pre-latent”, there are depleted iron stores but increased iron absorption and normal serum iron and capacity to bind iron and transport in around the body. In “latent” iron deficiency, which is a more advanced stage of iron depletion, decreased iron serum iron levels are present, and there is an increase in the capacity of binding and transporting iron, the body’s way of being ready if any iron becomes available. There are many treatments depending on the underlying cause of the deficiency, but following an iron-rich diet has been known to reverse the deficiency.
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Causes of Non-Anemia Iron Deficiency
The main cause of iron deficiency is inadequate iron intake. This can be due to following a diet based on mainly the same plants with little meat source, or general low calorie intake in relation to how much you need. Another cause is inadequate iron absorption. This can be caused by malabsorptive diseases like celiac disease or excessive intake of foods that reduce iron absorption, such as calcium. Menorrhagia, excessive menstrual bleeding, and other internal bleeding sources, such as an ulcer or internal parasites like hookworms, can result in iron deficiency. Other causes include blood donation and being an extreme endurance athlete which is at risk of iron depletion from repeated micro-tears in muscles and other smaller blood vessels.
Signs and Symptoms of Non-Anemia Iron Deficiency
There may not be any symptoms present until severe deficiency or anemia develops. Symptoms of iron depletion include fatigue, poor work productivity, lack of attention and memory, sore tongue and poor condition of the skin, nails or hair. Another symptom that may be present is pica, which causes a person to develop abnormal cravings; the most common craving due to pica is ice chips.
Treatment for Non-Anemia Iron Deficiency
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the iron deficiency and depletion itself. There is iron therapy in which you can consume ferrous iron salts, a 200mg twice a day supplement that is very cheap. Side effects of these can be nausea and stomach pain. This can be overcome by taking smaller doses throughout the day instead of two big doses. Also, taking ascorbic acid -- also known as vitamin C -- with the iron can enhance its absorption. Another route is following an iron-rich diet, which can help increase your iron levels and stores and relieve some of the symptoms.
There are two types of iron, heme-iron, iron that comes from animal sources like meat, fish and poultry and is better absorbed, and non-heme iron, iron that comes from plants, like dark green leafy vegetables, beans, soybeans, tofu and potatoes. One way of maximizing your iron absorption is to always add a citrus fruit to your meals whether they contain meat or not. If you want to maximize your iron absorption, eating a little bit of meat or animal source protein with each meal is the best way to go. Also, try eating enriched or fortified grain products like cereals and breads. Some of these cereals can contain up to 18 mg of iron per serving. Finally, limit your coffee and tea during meals as the tannins in such drinks can decrease iron absorption.
- PPT: Iron Supplementation for fatigue in non-anemic women
- Journal of the American Colllege of Nutirtion; Can dietary treatment of non-anemic iron deficiency improve iron status? Heath AL, Skeaff CM, O'Brien SM, Williams SM, Gibson RS October, 2001.
- AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION: Iron Rich Nutrition Therapy