Iron deficiency is the result of blood loss, your body's inability to store or use iron efficiently or because your diet is lacking in iron-rich foods. As iron stores diminish, your body loses red blood cells. Healthy red blood cells carry oxygen and other nutrients to every cell in the body. When your body's red blood cell count becomes too low, anemia occurs. Anemia is the most common result of iron deficiency.
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One of the main reasons for iron levels in your body to drop is the inability to absorb it from your food. Iron is absorbed by your small intestine and released into the bloodstream, according to the Mayo Clinic. Diseases involving the small and large intestines can inhibit the absorption of iron. Crohn's disease, celiac sprue and certain types of cancer can prohibit iron from being absorbed. In some cases, the removal of a section of your intestines will also cause a disruption in the assimilation of iron. The overuse of antacids will also affect how your body absorbs iron. Antacids decrease the level of stomach acid in the digestive tract and limit the body's ability to break down foods.
Blood loss is a main cause of many types of anemia. Women can lose large amounts of blood during their menstrual cycle. This blood loss over several months will cause anemia if there is not enough iron in the diet. Chronic diseases will also deplete iron stores if not treated in a timely manner. Hiatal hernias, colorectal cancer and peptic ulcers continually release small amounts of blood and over time can cause substantial blood loss. Bleeding from polyps in the colon can go undetected for years, eventually resulting in anemia and colorectal cancer.
Not Enough Iron in the Diet
Iron deficiencies occur if you do not include enough iron-rich foods in the diet to counterbalance the amount iron you lose. Leafy green vegetables, red meat and eggs contain iron in moderate amounts, according to the Iron Institute. Nuts, wheat, rice and oats also contain iron. Many foods, such as cereals and pasta, are iron-fortified. Some foods contain tannins that can block the absorption of iron. Chocolate, coffee and tea will limit the amount of iron the body is able to assimilate. Calcium that comes from dairy foods will also disrupt your body's ability to use the iron it needs from the foods you eat.
Infants, pregnant women and women who have heavy menstrual periods have a greater need for iron than others. Developing fetuses and infants require extra iron to maintain and build a healthy blood supply. Pregnant women need approximately 27 mg per day of iron, while 12-month-old infants need 11 mg. The amount of iron you need on a daily basis fluctuates as you age, but recommended daily allowances rarely drop below 8 mg, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. The elderly also fall into this category because the digestive system ceases to function efficiently. Forgotten meals, medications or chronic gastrointestinal bleeding are problems that can cause iron deficiency in the elderly.