Iron-Deficiency Anemia

Iron is part of the make-up of hemoglobin and myoglobin (“heme”, as in blood; “myo”, as in muscle). These substances have the remarkable ability to grab onto or release oxygen and carbon dioxide at the right times and places. Anemia from iron deficiency is aptly called “iron-deficiency anemia”, resulting in pallor and weakness. The anemia of children is due to either some subtle form of blood loss or inadequate intake of iron, either in elemental form or organic form. A simple look at red blood cells is diagnostic for iron-deficiency anemia. A little red meat and many vegetable sources, and the amount in a typical multivitamin/mineral preparation, do a good job of prevention. Giving vitamin C along with iron can enhance the correction of iron-deficiency anemia.

Minerals, which are chemically and nutritionally different from vitamins, have an excellent safety record, but not quite as good as vitamins. On the average, one or two fatalities per year are typically attributed to iron poisoning from gross overdosing on supplemental iron. Deaths attributed to other supplemental minerals are extremely rare. Even iron, although not as safe as vitamins, accounts for fewer deaths than do laundry and dishwashing detergents. Do not allow your child unfettered access to multivitamins containing iron (most iron-containing supplements have child-resistant caps as well). The amount of iron in multivitamins, even when taken twice daily, is fine. There were zero deaths in 2008-2009 from any mineral supplement, according to the U.S. National Poison Data System. This means there were no fatalities from calcium, magnesium, chromium, zinc, colloidal silver, selenium, iron, or multimineral supplements.

The New Vegetarians

Whether it’s to save the earth, money or their waistlines, more Americans are cutting back on meat. Should you elevate vegetables from sidekick to leading role? Here’s all you need to know to make meatless eating work for you.

Vegetarianism is having a moment

When former President Bill Clinton showed up to daughter Chelsea’s wedding looking slim and trim, he credited his strict vegetarian diet for his transformation. Meanwhile, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres recently gave up animal products, publicly declaring herself a vegan.

These two high-profit Americans have plenty of company in the meatless movement. Sure, countless others still hold onto childhood Brussels sprout biases; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 26.3 percent of adults eat vegetables three or more times per day. But signs suggest that the number of herbivores in the U.S. is on the rise. For example, last November the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics issued its first-eve guidelines for dietitians who are counseling vegetarians. With efforts like Meatless Mondays, a campaign to cut meat consumption to improve personal and environmental health, gaining momentum, nearly 20 percent of households are eating more meatless meals, reports the Food Marketing Institute. Some cite saving money as the primary driver, but most say they’re cutting down on meat to improve their health.

Scaling back on meat won’t necessarily net you better health or a svelte body. And let’s be clear: Going meatless won’t miraculously melt off extra pounds. However, swapping plant -based foods for animal-based ones will often save you calories and fat grams, and may make meeting your goal weight easier. In general, vegetarians weigh 3 to 20 percent less than meat eaters, according to an analysis published in Nutrition Reviews. What’s more, other studies link a well-planned vegetarian diet with a lower BMI and a wealth of health benefits, including reducer risks for cancer and chronic disease. The emphasis here is on the phrase “well-planned”. If you end up substituting meat with high fat options like cheese, your health bonuses are nil.

With that, here’s some freshly picked info for exploring the veggie landscape in a way that’s healthy and delicious.

Get what you need

Afraid you won’t get enough nutrients if you cut out meat? Most lifelong carnivores feel they need meat and other animal products for god nutrition, but that’s not the case. You can get key nutrients (and promote good health) from these plant-based sources.

Nutrient: Plant-based sources
Protein: Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, nut butters, peas, whole grains and soy-based products (tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers)
Iron: Fortified cereals, spinach, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, turnip greens, soy products, whole wheat breads and peas.
Omega-3s: Flax and other plant sources provide some, but not enough; if you don’t’ eat fish, consider an algae-derived DHA supplement.
Calcium: Fortified soymilk, cereals and orange juice; tofu made with calcium sulfate; dried beans and peas; nuts; seeds; some greens.
Vitamin D: Fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms (especially mushrooms treated with UV light, available in supermarkets), fortified cereals.

So you call yourself a Vegetarian?

The vegetarian spectrum runs the gamut from those who eat meat occasionally to raw foodists who will not consume anything cooked above certain temps. Below, a veggie glossary, from least to most extreme.

Flexatarian (Semi-vegetarian): Eats mostly plant-based foods; occasionally eats animal products as well as fish, poultry or meat.

Pollo-vegetarian: Eats poultry, such as chicken, turkey and duck.

Pescetarian: Eats fish and seafood, but no meat.

Lacto-ovo Vegetarian: Eats dairy products and eggs.

Lacto Vegetarian: Eats dairy products.

Classic Vegetarian: Eats diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts; no meat, poultry or fish.

Vegan: Follows a strict vegetarian diet that excludes animal-derived products like butter.

Raw Foodist: Eats no plant-based foods heated above 115 to 118 degrees.

Too Much Iron and Manganese Lead to Higher Risk for Parkinson’s

Too much iron and manganese in the diet may put people at increased risk for Parkinson’s disease, find researchers publishing in the June 2003 issue of Neurology.

Investigators from the University of Washington in Seattle believe the two minerals, common in foods such as spinach, beans, nuts, and whole grains, may impact Parkinson’s risk through their effect on the brain. Both iron and manganese are known to cause oxidative stress, which releases toxic substances known as free radicals and can cause degeneration of brain cells that produce dopamine. The loss of these brain cells plays a crucial role in the development of the disease.

The study involved 250 people with recently diagnosed Parkinson’s and 388 people without the disease. All were questioned extensively about their diets during their adult lives. Participants were then placed into categories depending on how much iron and manganese they consumed and also whether they were regular users of multivitamin or iron supplements.

Researchers found those in the top 25 percent of iron consumption were 1.7-times more likely to have Parkinson’s than those in the bottom 25 percent. Those with higher than average consumption of both minerals were 1.9 times more likely to have the disease. Participants with higher iron intake and a history of daily supplement use were 2.1-times more likely to have Parkinson’s. Those with higher manganese consumption and daily supplement use were 1.9-times more likely to have the disease.

However, the investigators do not suggest people limit their intake of foods rich in iron and manganese, noting the health benefits of eating these nutrient-rich foods probably outweigh the increased risk of Parkinson’s.

Harvey Checkoway, Ph.D., from the University of Washington in Seattle, says, “Our findings may improve understanding of how Parkinson’s disease develops. But there are most likely numerous environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors that determine who will develop the disease. It’s too early to make any recommendations about potential dietary changes.”

SOURCE: Neurology, 2003;60:1761-1766

What supplements should NOT include

There are two ingredients frequently found in supplements which can build up in the body and have toxic effects and so should NOT be included in a routine vitamin/mineral supplement. These are vitamins A and iron.

• Vitamin A: this is a fat-soluble vitamin and its levels can build up in the tissues causing skin problems, bone pain and fractures, nausea, vomiting and weakness. A good vitamin supplement will have beta carotene instead of vitamin A. If the body needs more vitamin A it can create it from the beta carotene, but if not then the beta carotene can be harmlessly excreted.
• Iron: this is frequently found in supplement tablets, and for most people it causes no problem. BUT one person in 300 has a condition called haemochromatosis which means that the iron will continue to build up in the body tissues. This especially occurs in the liver, pancreas and heart, leading to cirrhosis, diabetes and heart failure, and can be fatal. Unfortunately only a special blood test can confirm the presence or absence of haemochromatosis, so to include iron in a routine supplement could potentially kill or maim one person in 300.

Some people do need iron (for anemia), but it should be taken as a separate tablet, only after a blood test has confirmed that there is a need.

Trace Minerals – Iron and Zinc

Iron Functions

Iron is a trace mineral found in many parts of the body that performs many vital functions. It’s a component of two proteins that carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body: hemoglobin, found in the red blood cells, and myoglobin, found in muscle tissue. Iron is also a part of many enzymes, proteins that speed chemical reactions and create energy. Iron also support brain development.

Dietary Sources

The two types of iron found in foods are heme iron and non-heme iron.

Heme iron is part of the hemoglobin and myoglobin found in animal tissues. Meats, poultry, and fish are the only dietary sources of well-absorbed heme iron.

Non-heme iron is found mainly in plant foods such as beans, leafy green vegetables, legumes, and iron-fortified foods such as grains; small amounts are found in eggs and dairy products. This form of iron is much less absorbed than heme iron. Fortunately, you can absorb more heme iron at meals if you also consume the following:

• A food or beverage rich in vitamin C
• Meat, poultry, or fish

Several substances found in foods reduce iron absorption from foods. These include phytates, which are acids found in legumes (beans and peas), grains, and rice; polyhenols, which are found in coffee, tea, some fruits and vegetables, spices and soy foods such as tofu; oxalates found in spinach, strawberries, chocolate, wheat bran, nuts, beets, and tea; and fiber. Too much calcium, phosphorus, or zinc from foods or vitamins supplements also lowers your non-heme iron absorption.

Deficiencies and Excesses

Getting too little iron is a worldwide problem. In the United States, young children, teenage girls, and women during their childbearing years are most at risk for an iron deficiency. If you have depleted iron stores, you can feel no symptoms. Eventually, you can develop microcytic hypochromic anemia and experience symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, increased sensitivity to cold temperatures, and behavioral changes. Children can become irritable, have a lower attention span, and have difficulty learning.

Too much iron can also have severe consequences, especially in children who accidentally overdose on iron-containing prescription or over-the-counter supplements. Symptoms of iron overload include nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea; in several cases, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion, and even death can occur. A common inherited defect can cause iron overload disease in adults. A simple blood test can screen for this. When too much iron builds up in the body over time, it can lead to cirrhosis, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Too much iron also reduces zinc absorption.

Zinc Functions

Zinc is a trace mineral that’s involved in many important reactions that occur in the body. It plays a key role in growth and sexual development and helps proteins such as enzymes and hormones perform their many functions. It also supports immune function and helps make DNA (genetic material). Zinc also plays a role in maintaining your senses of taste and smell.

Zinc is found in a variety of protein-rich foods including beef, liver, eggs and seafood. It is also found in grains and legumes (beans and peas), but these foods contain phytates – acids that attach to zinc – and fiber that limits zinc absorption by the body. Zinc from animal sources is highly absorbed.

Deficiencies and Excesses

Zinc deficiency is rare, except in populations that live mainly on cereal grains that contain poorly absorbed zinc. However, those with gastrointestinal or digestive disorders or chronic diseases such as liver or kidney disease or with alcoholism can be at risk for a zinc deficiency. People who consume no meat (such as vegetarians or vegans) and pregnant or lactating women (who have higher zinc needs) are also at risk. Older infants (7-12 months) who are exclusively breastfed also need more zinc.

Although excess zinc is not stored in the body for long periods of time, in some people excess amounts from foods and/or supplements can dampen immune function and lead to hair loss, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems. Too much zinc can also cause a copper deficiency.