Unmasking Anemia: Understanding the Silent Struggle

Unmasking Anemia: Understanding the Silent Struggle

Anemia, a condition characterized by a lack of healthy red blood cells, affects a significant portion of the population in India, particularly women and girls. However, the conversation surrounding anemia remains hidden in invisibility. This keeps a cycle of silent suffering and denial to go for check-up. Understanding the complexities of anemia in the Indian context, and exploring the behavioural patterns and cultural codes are necessary to know the urgency of unmasking this condition.

Disadvantage of Invisibility

Anemia’s presence is often masked by normalized symptoms and misattributed causes. Fatigue, weakness, and dizziness—common manifestations of anemia—are often dismissed as the consequences of a busy lifestyle or the natural course of womanhood. The normalization of these symptoms keeps anemia hidden and invisible – letting it grow and get worse with time.

Unraveling Behavioral Patterns

Because we are often unable to recognize the symptoms, we need to keep an eye out for behaviours that might point us to them. Behavioral patterns emerge as coping mechanisms to navigate the challenges posed by anemia. Women and girls, accustomed to silently enduring their symptoms, adapt their behavior to accommodate their diminished energy levels. For example: taking afternoon naps, and not having the energy to go out after a work day.

The Culture of Denial

Denial, both at the individual and societal level, further obscures the anemia conversation. Women, reluctant to acknowledge their symptoms for fear of appearing weak or burdening others, may delay seeking diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, societal norms and cultural taboos surrounding women’s health issues contribute to the perpetuation of denial, hindering efforts to unmask anemia.

Bringing Anemia into the Light

It is extremely important to break the cycle of invisibility surrounding anemia and bring it into the spotlight. By raising awareness and fostering open dialogue, we can dismantle the barriers that prevent women and girls from seeking help and receiving the care they need. Anemia must be recognized not as a sign of weakness, but as a health issue deserving of attention and support.

Empowering Women to Discover Their Potential

Unmasking anemia is not merely about addressing the symptoms and misattributions—it is about empowering women to reclaim their health and unlock their full potential. When women are no longer held captive by the invisible chains of anemia, they can thrive, excel, and contribute fully to society. By enabling women to prioritise their health and well-being, we pave the way for a brighter, healthier future for all.

In the journey to unmask anemia, we must confront the cultural codes, behavioral patterns, and denial that perpetuate its invisibility. By shining a light on this silent epidemic and fostering a culture of awareness and empowerment, we can break free from the shadows and bring in a new era of health and vitality for women and girls across India. 

Understanding Hemoglobin: The Key to Anemia Diagnosis

Understanding Hemoglobin: The Key to Anemia Diagnosis

While most people know that the word hemoglobin is connected to iron levels in the body, only a few really know why it is important. It will be very beneficial to explore the connection between hemoglobin and iron. Understanding how this relationship is vital for our bodies can help aid in diagnosing anemia early.

What is Hemoglobin?

Hemoglobin is iron containing protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. It's like a little oxygen courier, ensuring that every cell receives the oxygen it needs to function properly. Hemoglobin also helps transport carbon dioxide, a waste product, from the body's tissues back to the lungs to be exhaled.

The Role of Iron in Hemoglobin

Iron is an essential mineral that plays a key role in the production of hemoglobin. Without enough iron, the body cannot produce an adequate amount of hemoglobin,- which leads to anemia. Iron is like the building blocks for hemoglobin – It is essential to create the protein structure that carries oxygen throughout the body.

How Hemoglobin and Iron Levels Are Related

The relationship between hemoglobin and iron levels is straightforward – without sufficient iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin. This is how it works:

  1. Iron Absorption: Iron is absorbed from the food we eat and then transported to the bone marrow, where red blood cells, including hemoglobin, are produced.
  2. Hemoglobin Production: Inside the bone marrow, iron combines with other molecules to form hemoglobin. Each molecule of hemoglobin contains four iron atoms, which bind to oxygen molecules and transport them throughout the body.
  3. Maintaining Hemoglobin Levels: To maintain healthy hemoglobin levels, the body needs a continuous supply of iron. If iron levels are low, the body struggles to produce enough hemoglobin, leading to a decrease in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.

How Hemoglobin and Iron Levels Are Related

The relationship between hemoglobin and iron levels is straightforward – without sufficient iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin. This is how it works:

  1. Iron Absorption: Iron is absorbed from the food we eat and then transported to the bone marrow, where red blood cells, including hemoglobin, are produced.
  2. Hemoglobin Production: Inside the bone marrow, iron combines with other molecules to form hemoglobin. Each molecule of hemoglobin contains four iron atoms, which bind to oxygen molecules and transport them throughout the body.
  3. Maintaining Hemoglobin Levels: To maintain healthy hemoglobin levels, the body needs a continuous supply of iron. If iron levels are low, the body struggles to produce enough hemoglobin, leading to a decrease in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.

Ideal Hemoglobin Levels for Different Age Groups

Hemoglobin levels can vary depending on age, gender, and other factors. Here are the ideal hemoglobin levels for different population groups:

  1. Adult Males: The normal range for hemoglobin in adult males is generally between 13.8 to 17.2 grams per deciliter (g/dL).
  2. Adult Females: For adult females, the normal range for hemoglobin is slightly lower, typically between 12.1 to 15.1 g/dL.
  3. Children: Hemoglobin levels in children can vary based on age. For infants, the normal range is around 11 to 13.5 g/dL, while for older children, it may range between 11.5 to 15.5 g/dL.
  4. Adolescents: During adolescence, the hemoglobins levels should be roughly around 11.9 to 15.0 g/dL for both males and females. However, these might fluctuate. In males, these levels may increase, reaching levels similar to adult males. Females may experience fluctuations related to menstrual cycles and growth spurts.

How to Get Hemoglobin Levels Tested

Testing for hemoglobin levels is a simple and routine procedure that can be performed by healthcare providers. Here’s how the process typically works:

  1. Blood Test: A blood sample is usually taken from a vein in the arm using a small needle. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
  2. Complete Blood Count (CBC): Hemoglobin levels are typically measured as part of a complete blood count (CBC), which also includes other parameters such as red blood cell count, white blood cell count, and platelet count.
  3. Fasting Requirements: In some cases, healthcare providers may recommend fasting for a few hours before the blood test, especially if additional tests are being conducted alongside the CBC.
  4. Consultation with Healthcare Provider: Once the results are available, your healthcare provider will discuss the findings with you and recommend any necessary steps based on your hemoglobin levels and overall health status.

Regular monitoring of hemoglobin levels is essential, especially for individuals at risk of anemia or other blood-related disorders. If you have concerns about your hemoglobin levels or experience symptoms of anemia, don’t hesitate to discuss them with your healthcare provider and request a blood test for evaluation. Early detection and management of abnormal hemoglobin levels can help prevent complications and promote better health outcomes.

Anemia Awareness 101: Understanding Iron Levels and Your Health

Anemia Awareness 101: Understanding Iron Levels and Your Health

Iron deficiency anemia is more common than you might think, affecting millions of people
worldwide. Understanding iron levels, recognizing their significance, and knowing what to do if
they're low can make a world of difference in your well-being.

What Are Iron Levels?

Iron levels refer to the amount of iron present in your body. Iron is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in various bodily functions. Iron is essential in making hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells. One of its primary functions is to help transport oxygen throughout your body via red blood cells. Without adequate iron levels, your body struggles to produce enough healthy red blood cells, leading to anemia.

The Importance of Iron

Iron is often referred to as the "building block" of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells
responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without sufficient iron,
your body cannot produce enough hemoglobin, leading to reduced oxygen delivery to tissues
and organs.

Maintaining adequate iron levels is crucial for:

  1. Energy Levels: Iron helps your body generate energy by facilitating the transport of oxygen to cells and tissues. Low iron levels can leave you feeling fatigued and sluggish.
  2. Brain Function: Oxygen is essential for optimal brain function. Adequate iron levels ensure that your brain receives enough oxygen to support cognitive processes like memory, concentration, and overall mental clarity.
  3. Physical Performance: Iron is particularly important for athletes and individuals with active lifestyles. It helps support muscle function and endurance by ensuring sufficient oxygen delivery to working muscles.

Who Is At Risk of Iron Deficiency?

While iron deficiency can affect anyone, certain factors can increase your risk of developing low iron levels or iron deficiency anemia. It’s essential to be aware of these risk factors to take proactive steps in maintaining optimal iron levels. Here are some groups that are at higher risk:

Iron Rich Dishes: Fueling Your Body To Fight Anemia

  1. Women of Childbearing Age: Women are at a higher risk of iron deficiency due to blood loss during menstruation. Pregnancy and breastfeeding also increase the body’s demand for iron, making women of childbearing age particularly vulnerable to iron deficiency anemia.
  2. Children and Adolescents: Rapid growth during childhood and adolescence increases the body’s need for iron. Additionally, children who consume inadequate iron-rich foods in their diet may be at risk of developing iron deficiency.
  3. Vegetarians and Vegans: Plant-based diets can be lower in iron compared to diets that include meat and animal products. While it’s possible to obtain sufficient iron from plant sources, vegetarians and vegans may need to pay closer attention to ensure they are consuming enough iron-rich foods.
  4. People with Certain Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions can interfere with iron absorption or increase iron loss from the body. Conditions such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and gastrointestinal bleeding can contribute to iron deficiency anemia.
  5. Frequent Blood Donors: Regular blood donation can lead to a gradual depletion of iron stores in the body. While blood donation is a noble act, frequent donors should be mindful of their iron levels and ensure they replenish their iron stores through diet and supplementation.
  6. Individuals with Chronic Diseases: Chronic diseases such as kidney disease, heart failure, and cancer can affect the body’s ability to regulate iron levels and utilize iron effectively, increasing the risk of iron deficiency anemia.
  7. Athletes and Active Individuals: Intense physical activity, particularly endurance sports, can increase the body’s demand for iron. Athletes and individuals with active lifestyles may require higher iron intake to support muscle function and oxygen transport during exercise.

Recognizing Low Iron Levels

Iron deficiency can manifest in various ways, and recognizing the symptoms early can help prompt timely intervention. Here are some common signs of low iron levels:

      1. Fatigue: Feeling unusually tired or weak, even after getting enough rest, could be a sign of iron deficiency.
      2. Pale Skin: Iron deficiency can lead to paleness or a noticeably lighter complexion.
      3. Shortness of Breath: If you find yourself becoming breathless even during light physical activity, it could indicate insufficient oxygen delivery due to low iron levels.
      4. Dizziness or Lightheadedness: Feeling dizzy or lightheaded, especially when standing up quickly, might be a symptom of iron deficiency anemia.
      5. Cold Hands and Feet: Poor circulation resulting from low iron levels can cause extremities like hands and feet to feel cold or numb.
      6. Brittle Nails and Hair Loss: Iron deficiency can also affect the health of your hair and nails, leading to increased brittleness and hair loss.
Yoga Adho Mukha Shvanasana
Iron Rich Dishes: Fueling Your Body To Fight Anemia

What to Do If You Have Low Iron Levels

If you suspect that you might have low iron levels or are experiencing symptoms of iron deficiency anemia, it’s essential to take action. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Consult Your Healthcare Provider: The first and most crucial step is to consult your healthcare provider. They can perform a simple blood test to measure your iron levels and diagnose any deficiencies.
  2. Iron-Rich Diet: Incorporate iron-rich foods into your diet to help boost your iron levels naturally. Foods such as lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals are excellent sources of iron.
  3. Supplements: In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend iron supplements to help replenish your iron stores. It’s essential to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations regarding dosage and duration of supplementation. It is important to note that supplements should not be taken without a prescription by your healthcare provider.
  4. Vitamin C: Consuming vitamin C-rich foods or supplements alongside iron-rich foods can enhance iron absorption. Vitamin C helps convert iron into a form that is more readily absorbed by the body.
  5. Limit Iron Blockers: Some substances can inhibit iron absorption. These include tea, coffee, calcium supplements, and certain medications. Try to avoid consuming these substances close to meals or iron supplementation.
  6. Stay Consistent: Building up iron levels takes time. Be patient and consistent with your dietary changes and supplementation regimen. Monitor your symptoms and follow up with your healthcare provider regularly to track your progress.
Iron Rich Dishes: Fueling Your Body To Fight Anemia

Iron Rich Dishes: Fueling Your Body To Fight Anemia

With 57% women in India suffering from Anemia, we should all add iron to our diet. Iron is important in making red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body. If you fall short of it, you might feel tired and lethargic. Keep your blood, energy, and brain on top priority by making iron the VIP of your diet. Our top tip? Pair it with vitamin C-rich foods for a power boost.

How much Iron do we need?

First, let’s find out how much iron we should be consuming on a daily basis!

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, this is how much Iron we should be aiming to get from our daily diet.

For Indians, the recommended dietary allowances for iron computed are: adult men 28 mg/d, adult women 30 mg/d, pregnant women 38 mg/d, lactating women 30 mg/d, boys aged 13-15 yr 41 mg/d, girls 13-15 yr 28 mg/d, and children 7-9 yr 26 mg/d10.

  1. Men over 18: 28 mg a day 
  2. Women over 18: 30 mg a day
  3. Lactating women: 30 mg a day
  4. Boys aged 13-15: 41 mg a day
  5. Girls aged 13-15: 28 mg a day
  6. Children aged 7-9: 26 mg a day

Having said that, eating too much Iron can lead to an iron overload and feelings of nausea or discomfort so don’t go overboard or force yourself to consume too much.

Having said that, eating too much Iron can lead to an iron overload and feelings of nausea or discomfort so don’t go overboard or force yourself to consume too much.

Why do we need Iron?

Iron, a must-have nutrient, is vital for producing hemoglobin. There are two iron types in your diet: heme (from animal products) and non-heme (from plant-based foods). While the body easily absorbs heme iron, loading up on non-heme iron from plants can be just as beneficial.

What are some sources of Iron?

 India’s got a whole bunch of tasty foods full of iron. Especially in traditional recipes – they’re like iron superheroes fighting anemia! If you’re dealing with it or just want to stay healthy, try cooking and munching on more of these yummy Indian dishes. Your taste buds and health will thank you!

Curious to know which Desi dishes help prevent and cure anemia? Well, here’s the scoop – a whole list coming your way!

Poha With Peanuts

Poha (puffed rice) with peanuts makes for an excellent anemia-fighting duo. Poha and peanuts both contribute iron, crucial for haemoglobin production. The vitamin C present in poha’s common accompaniments, like lemon, enhances iron absorption from plant-based sources such as peanuts. Additionally, peanuts provide a protein boost, creating a well-rounded and nutritious meal. Incorporating this delightful combination into your diet not only satisfies your taste buds but also supports your body in the battle against anemia.

Uttanasana
Halasana

Palak Paneer

Palak Paneer is another fantastic choice to combat anemia. Spinach (palak) is a leafy green loaded with iron and vitamin C, aiding iron absorption. Paneer, a rich source of protein and vitamin B12, complements the nutrient profile. The combination of these ingredients creates a delicious and nutritious dish that not only satisfies the taste buds but also provides essential nutrients for preventing and addressing anemia. Including Palak Paneer in your regular meals adds a flavorful punch to your diet while promoting overall health.

Sarson Ka Saag

Sarson ka Saag is a powerhouse of nutrition, particularly beneficial in the fight against anemia. This Punjabi dish features mustard greens (sarson) and other leafy greens, packed with iron, folic acid, and vitamin C. The combination of these nutrients supports hemoglobin production and enhances iron absorption. Additionally, Sarson ka Saag is a source of essential vitamins and minerals, contributing to overall well-being. Including this flavorful dish in your diet not only adds a traditional touch but also provides a wholesome boost to your iron intake, making it a valuable addition to combat anemia.

Yoga Adho Mukha Shvanasana
Virasana

Mushroom Sabzi

Enjoying the goodness of humble Mushroom Sabzi? Well, here’s the scoop – it’s a smart move, especially if you’re dealing with iron deficiency anemia. Why? Because a mere 100 grams of mushrooms packs a punch with 8.8mg of iron and 5.6mcg of vitamin B12. Consider adding more mushroom dishes to your repertoire for not only a boost in hemoglobin but also for the various health benefits this magical ingredient brings to the table. Time to make mushrooms your new kitchen favorite!

Aloo Matar

Aloo Matar, a classic Indian dish with potatoes (aloo) and peas (matar), can be a nutritious addition to your diet, although it’s not particularly rich in iron. Potatoes provide carbohydrates, while peas contribute some protein and fiber. While not a direct source of iron, incorporating Aloo Matar into a well-rounded diet that includes other iron-rich foods can contribute to overall nutritional balance. To enhance the iron content, consider pairing Aloo Matar with other dishes that are high in iron or vitamin C.

Shavasana
Virasana

Rajma Masala

Rajma Masala, a popular North Indian dish featuring kidney beans, is a nutritious choice to combat anemia. Kidney beans are rich in iron and protein, supporting hemoglobin production. Make sure you include tomatoes, providing vitamin C to enhance iron absorption. Additionally, the combination of beans and rice in Rajma Masala forms a complete protein, offering a well-rounded and satisfying meal.

Keema Kaleji

Keema Kaleji, a dish featuring minced meat (keema) and liver (kaleji), offers a good dose of iron and other essential nutrients. The liver is a rich source of heme iron, which is easily absorbed by the body. This makes Keema Kaleji a valuable choice to combat anemia. Additionally, the dish provides protein and other vitamins, contributing to overall nutritional well-being. Including Keema Kaleji in your diet can add variety and flavor while supplying important nutrients, making it a beneficial option in the fight against anemia.

Shavasana
Yoga, Asanas for menstrual bleeding

Yoga, Asanas for menstrual bleeding

Pranayama

Pranayama

Sit comfortably so that your spine is raised along with the chest, floating ribs and navel. Keeping the spine erect, lower the head to the trunk. Rest the chin in the notch between the collarbones just above the breastbone. Stretch the arms out straight and rest the back of the wrists on the knees. Join the tips of the index fingers to the tips of the thumbs, keeping the other fingers extended.
Take a slow, deep steady breath through both the nostrils. Fill the lungs up to the brim. Care must be taken to see that the abdomen does not bloat in the process of inhalation. Hold the breath for a second or two. Exhale slowly until the lungs are completely empty. As you begin to exhale, keep a grip on the abdomen. After two or three seconds of exhalation, relax the diaphragm gradually and slowly. Wait for a second before drawing a fresh breath. The process described above completes one cycle of Pranayama. Repeat the cycles for five to 10 minutes keeping the eyes closed.

Uttanasana

Stand upright. Separate your legs to a distance of 30cm (1ft). Keep your feet parallel to each other, with the toes pointing forward. Inhale and raise your arms toward the ceiling, your palms facing forward. Bend from the waist toward the floor. To increase the stretch of your spine, press your heels down on the floor. Rest the crown of your head on the blocks in front of you, and place your palms on the ground beside your feet. Pull in your kneecaps. Extend your hamstrings and pull your inner legs upward. Feel one single stretch from the crown of your head to your heels. Hold the pose for 1 minute.

Uttanasana
Halasana

Halasana

Lie down with your back on a Mat. Lift your hips off the floor and bring your legs up, over and beyond your head. At this point, lift your back and move your legs further beyond your head. Straighten your spine and keep your back straight. Move your hands toward your back. Place your arms against your upper back and try to place your hands as near as possible to the shoulder blades.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana

Stand in Tadasana facing a wall, about 1m (3.5 ft) away from it. Place 2 of the blocks on their broadsides, shoulder-width apart, against the wall. Place the third block on its long side, 45cm (18in) away from the wall. Separate your feet to a distance of 45cm(18in). Kneel, and place your palms on the two blocks against the wall. Press your palms down on the blocks and walk your feet back, until they are 1.2m (4ft) away from your hands. Make sure that your feet are in line with your hands and the same distance apart. Raise both heels, stretch your legs, then lower your heels to the floor. Stretch your arms fully.

Consciously stretch each leg from heel to buttock, and from the front of the ankle to the top of the thigh. Raise your buttocks, stretch your chest, and push your sternum toward your hands. Exhale, then rest your head on the third block. Press your hands down on the blocks, extending your arms fully. Stretch your spine and expand your chest. Keep your throat soft and elongated. Relax your eyes and keep your brain passive.

Yoga Adho Mukha Shvanasana
Virasana

Virasana

Kneel on the mat, keeping your knees together. Sit with your back upright. Keep your chest stretched out. Imagine you are squeezing your kidneys and drawing them into the body. Place your palms on your knees. Look straight ahead. Stay in the pose for 30 – 60 seconds.

Shavasana

Sit upright with your legs straight forward. Now place your elbows and forearms on the mat. Lower your back, vertebra by vertebra, until your head rests comfortably on the mat. Position your buttocks evenly on the centre of the mat. Spread out your arms to the sides, palms facing up, and rest them on the floor. Straighten your legs and stretch them evenly away from each other, without disturbing the extension of your waist. Exhale, focusing on your breathing, then lift and stretch your diaphragm, keeping it free of tension. Keep your arms at a comfortable distance from your body. Relax your facial muscles and your jaw. Keep your breathing smooth and free of tension, but do not breathe deeply. Stay in the pose for 5 – 10 minutes.

Shavasana
Foods and meal plans for iron deficiency

Foods and meal plans for iron deficiency

Meal plans

Adding iron-rich foods to the diet can help to treat anemia. A doctor can advise about the kinds of foods to choose from and other ways to increase iron absorption.

The best diet for a person with anemia includes plenty of foods rich in iron and other foods that help the body to absorb iron. A person should also be aware of foods that can inhibit iron absorption.

The plan below was developed to show what healthful meals for a person with anemia might include: 

Breakfast:

  • Option 1: Iron-fortified cereal and a glass of iron-fortified orange juice.
  • Option 2: Strawberries with low-fat yoghurt and a handful of pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
  • Tea and coffee inhibit iron absorption, and people should not drink them with meals.

 

Lunch

  • Option 1: A sandwich with roast beef and watercress on iron-enriched bread.
  • Option 2: A bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and spinach.

 

Dinner

  •  Option 1: Lamb chops with boiled potatoes, steamed broccoli, and curly kale.
  • Option 2: A stew that includes kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, tinned tomatoes, onions, red peppers, and garlic, topped with vegan or dairy-based cheese and a dollop of yogurt.

 

 

Tips for getting more iron in the diet

 

If a person has tried changing their diet and their levels of iron remain low, they should speak with a doctor or dietician, who may recommend a supplement.

Doctors often recommend choosing a supplement containing ferrous salts such as ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate, or ferrous sulfate. These formulations all contain anywhere from 15–106 mg of elemental iron in a tablet or oral solution.

 

Outlook

People with iron-deficiency anemia can benefit from adding iron-rich food to their diet. The foods and strategies listed above can help a person to manage the condition. 

Eating certain dark, leafy greens, seafood, beans, nuts, and seeds can help a person to boost their iron intake. It may also be a good idea to use a cast-iron skillet, and cooking meals for shorter periods, when possible. 

Iron supplements can benefit people who do not receive enough iron from their diets. It is essential to follow the dosage instructions carefully. An excess of iron can cause iron toxicity.  This can be dangerous as well as fatal in rare conditions.