Iron deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutrition deficiencies in the world today. When a child is iron deficient he or she has a reduction in the body’s iron content.
This reduction in iron can deplete the iron stores in the child’s body, making it hard (sometimes impossible) to mobilize iron to maintain normal physiological and metabolic functions.
Iron deficiency is a condition that is caused by the long-term negative iron balance. The most common manifestation of iron deficiency is anemia.
Iron is an important component of haemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficient children are easily tired, have low energy and tend to be irritable.
Several factors may result in iron deficiency. The best way to deal with it is preventing it by figuring out what could be causing iron deficiency in your child.
Increased iron needs for a growth spurt
The iron needs of a child increase sharply during the adolescent period, which is characterized by accelerated growth. The child increases in lean body mass, blood volume and red cell mass, all of which demand an increase in the body’s content of iron.
When it comes to adolescent girls, the overall iron requirement increases two to three folds from a pre-adolescent level. Adolescents, particularly girls, therefore, are at high risk of iron deficiency anaemia due to this accelerated increase in required iron.
The child’s reduced ability to absorb iron
A child’s ability to absorb iron can be reduced. This happens when the child rarely consumes nutrients that enhance the absorption of iron or consumes nutrients that inhibit the consumption of iron.
Consumption of iron-rich foods should be combined with consumption of iron enhancers like Vit. C rich foods such as oranges, guava, papaya and lemon.
Vitamin C rich foods are good examples of iron absorption enhancers. On the other hand, calcium rich foods and caffeine inhibits iron absorption, therefore they should be avoided when eating iron rich foods.
Consumption of tea or coffee, particularly immediately after food, interferes with the absorption of iron due to the presence of inhibitory factors called tannins.
Low iron bioavailability
Even after consuming an adequate diet from good sources of iron, one must consider the bioavailability of iron. Vegetarian sources of iron (known as non-haem iron) like green leafy vegetables, beans and cereals have low bioavailability.
On the other hand, iron from foods of animal origin (referred to as haeme iron) is better absorbed. But it is not practical to have iron just from non-vegetarian sources hence the best way to increase the bioavailability of iron in vegetarian sources is by combining it with non-vegetarian source or combining them with rich vitamin C sources.
Occurrence of infectious diseases and parasitic infestations
Malaria infection and hookworm infestations have been shown to cause anaemia.
Parasitic worms, such as hookworms and tapeworms live in the small human intestines where they suck blood and nutrients from their host.
Worms also damage the lining of the intestines, limiting their ability to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. Heavy worm infestation has been shown to cause iron deficiency anaemia.
The malaria parasite, on the other hand, lives off the iron in the blood, causing iron deficiency and in extreme cases, anaemia.
Heavy bleeding also causes loss of iron from the body in conditions of surgery or injury and can contribute to anaemia. If your child looks pale, lethargic or is following any such habits its time you check their Haemoglobin levels and enrich his/her diet with Iron if iron levels are below the desired level. Do not use supplements unless you are expressly directed by a doctor to do so.