How Can Iron-Deficiency Anemia Be Prevented?
Eating a well-balanced diet rich in iron and
vitamins can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Red meat is the best source
of iron, but other meats, including poultry and seafood, are good sources of
iron as well. Besides meat, foods high in iron are:
- Cereals, breads, or pastas that are fortified
- Beans and nuts, including peanut butter, almonds,
peas, lentils, and white, red, and baked beans
- Dried fruits (for example, raisins, apricots, and
peaches), prune juice
- Vegetables such as spinach and other dark green,
- Iron-fortified infant formula and cereals
Food fads and dieting can sometimes lead to iron
deficiency. Weight loss diets that stress low-fat foods can mean that a person
will avoid animal foods that are good sources of iron. High-fiber diets can
make it hard for iron to be absorbed. High-sugar diets are often low in
Adults who eat a balanced diet usually don't need
iron supplements. However, people who don't absorb iron well and those who are
strict vegetarians may need them.
The Office of Dietary Supplements, National
Institutes of Health provides a
"Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron." This fact sheet
includes lists of food that are high in iron and the amount of iron provided by
Preventing Anemia in Infants and Young
Anemia can be prevented in infants and young
children by testing, especially in the following three age groups:
- Premature and low-birth-weight babies less than 6
months of age
- Babies who are 9-12 months of age
- Babies who are 15-18 months of age
Infants absorb iron best from breast milk. They can
absorb more than 50 percent of the iron in breast milk but only about 12
percent of the iron in infant formula.
Doctors usually recommend not giving cow's milk to
babies for the first year. Cow's milk is low in iron. The doctor may suggest
limiting cow's milk for children up to age 3 to no more than 24 ounces a
day-about three full baby bottles each day. A child who is drinking a lot of
milk may not be eating other foods that are better sources of iron. Drinking a
lot of milk also can lead to bleeding in the intestines.
Babies need more iron as they grow and begin to eat
solid foods. To help them get enough iron:
- Infants under age 1 who are not breastfed or who
are partially breastfed can be given iron-fortified infant formula. Iron
fortified means that each liter of formula has 4-12 milligrams of iron.
- Babies older than 4 months can be given iron-rich
or iron-fortified solid foods such as cereal.
The child's doctor can give advice on the best diet
for the infant. The doctor may recommend iron drops if the child needs an iron
supplement. Giving a child too much iron can be dangerous, so it is important
to be careful and follow the doctor's instructions. Parents and caregivers
should keep all iron supplements and vitamins away from children. They should
ask for child-proof packages for supplements.
Preventing Anemia in Adolescents and Women of
Teenaged girls and women of childbearing age are at
higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia due to blood loss from menstrual
bleeding. They should be tested for anemia every 5-10 years starting in their
teens. Girls and women at higher risk for anemia should be checked yearly. This
includes women who have a history of anemia, do not eat foods high in iron, or
have heavy blood loss from menstruation or other causes.
Preventing Anemia in Pregnant Women
Half of all pregnant women develop iron-deficiency
anemia because their volume of blood increases and because the growing fetus
needs iron. Anemia during pregnancy can lead to an increased risk of premature
delivery and a low-birth-weight baby.
To prevent these problems, pregnant women need twice
as much iron as women who are not pregnant. Pregnant women can get more iron
from eating more iron-rich foods, from supplements, or from both. Medical care
during pregnancy should include screening for anemia.
The doctor giving prenatal care may prescribe iron
supplements, which should be taken as directed. Pregnant women should notify
their doctors if they have uncomfortable side effects such as constipation. The
doctor also may give advice on how to get higher levels of iron through eating
Preventing Anemia in Older Adults
Older adults may be at risk for iron deficiency due
to poor diet or illnesses that reduce iron absorption. Iron deficiency can take
away their sense of well-being, strength, and activeness. It also can make
symptoms of other conditions worse. Doctors can advise older adults about
eating iron-rich foods and how to use iron supplements to prevent