Causes, symptoms and diet for iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia- what the the symptoms and what foods you can eat to improve your haemoglobin levels and iron stores in the body

Anaemia is a condition that predominantly affects women—it is found in women of all ages and across geographies.

What is anaemia?

The word anaemia literally means lack of blood, but what your body actually lacks is either RBCs [red blood cells] or haemoglobin. Anemia is the medical term for low hemoglobin. The normal levels of haemoglobin are between 12-14gm/dl for women and 13-16gm/dl for men. There are various types of anemia

What are the symptoms of anemia:

Signs and symptoms of anaemia include:

  • Frequent fatigue, dizziness and fainting spells. Fatigue is the commonest symptom, as the oxygen delivery in your body reduces in anaemia
  • Reduced concentration and having difficulty focussing.
  • Breathlessness on little exertion, not feeling fresh after sleeping the entire night
  • Always feeling cold, especially hands and feet
  • Pale conjunctiva [the part of your eye visible when you pull down the lower eyelid]
  • Pale, lack-lustre skin [all over the body especially palms and nails]
  • Palpitations
  • Loss of hair and brittle nails
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased pulse rate and low blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart sounds
  • Blood in stool or dark coloured stool
  • Worsening of existing illness
  • Smooth tongue and spoon shaped nails known as Koilonychia [happens only in severe cases].
  • You may develop a craving for non-edible items like sand or mud [this too is in extreme cases]. You may also have craving for ice [pagophagia]

Foods that can improve iron deficiency anaemia

It was not without reason that your mom told you to eat your greens; including these in your diet helps prevent anaemia.

Here’s a list of other things that you must do to prevent or treat the condition.

  • Include green leafy vegetables, carrots, broccoli, beetroot, dates, jaggery, tomato, red pepper, red meat, liver and egg yolk in your diet. Increasing the intake of iron-rich foods helps replenish your iron reserves.
  • Drink spinach soup or juice 3 – 4 times a week.
  • Supplement your diet with vitamin C-rich foods such as lemon, amla, nachni [ragi] and oranges, as they help absorb iron from food.
  • Eat raisins and dried figs as they are known to marginally increase iron levels. They also provide many other micronutrients. You could have them just plain or toss them in your salad or cereal.
  • Use iron vessels for cooking food.
  • Steam the green leafy vegetables, instead of boiling them
  • Do not wash green leafy vegetables after cutting them as it causes further loss of nutrients; wash them thoroughly before cutting.
  • Red meat and organ meats such as kidney and liver is very rich in iron and helps to improve haemoglobin levels.
  • Consult your physician if you notice a sudden increase in blood loss during menstruation or if it is accompanied with unusual pain. If your haemoglobin level is below 12g/dl, you might need to take iron supplements.

Getting to the exact cause of anaemia with the help of your physician is important. Because without treating it, no amount of dietary supplementation or preventive measures will help. For that, familiarise yourself with the common causes.

Possible causes

Blood loss

You can lose blood due to:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding: This is the most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia in women. In case of hormonal imbalance or a fibroid, the amount of blood lost during menstruation is more than usual. Often, this goes unchecked for months till pain accompanies blood loss.
  • Surgery, bleeding or injury: There is a possibility of significant blood loss after a major surgery or haemorrhage [bleeding] due to an injury.
  • Chronic intestinal bleeding: This could be a result of a gastric ulcer, polyp [abnormal tissue growth from a mucous membrane] or a worm infestation.
  • Bleeding from haemorrhoids [piles].
  • Gastrointestinal cancers or their treatment [chemotherapy, radiation, surgery].
  • Delivery: Some amount of blood is lost during delivery—whether normal or surgical. Blood is also lost in a miscarriage.
  • Some medications may also cause blood loss.


  • During pregnancy, your body’s requirement for haemoglobin increases. Hence, if not adequately supplemented through diet or oral iron pills, it could deplete your body’s iron reserves.
  • Frequent pregnancies or closely spaced pregnancies without giving the body appropriate time to heal could be another precursor to iron deficiency anaemia.

Poor dietary intake

  • Faulty/fad diets.
  • Incorrect cooking methods: Overcooking food or reheating food several times causes loss of nutrients.
  • Excessive milk consumption: Milk hampers iron absorption from the gut.
  • Poor absorption of iron from food: This could be due to malabsorption of iron from the intestine or a gastrointestinal disease.
  • Deficiency of vitamin B12 and folic acid.
  • Excessive alcohol intake.

Decreased RBC production

  • In diseases affecting the kidney such as kidney failure or cancers, the production of RBCs in the bone marrow is hampered, causing anaemia.

Increased RBC destruction

Grazilia Almeida-Khatri
Trained as a physician, Dr Grazilia Almeida-Khatri is a wellness coach and consultant. She endorses yoga as a way of life and conducts wellness and yoga retreats for individuals and corporates. She is also trained in Pilates by Michael King, who is based in the UK. Dr Grazilia is a practitioner of the Body Mirror System of healing as taught by Sir Martin Brofman. She lives in Pune, India and offers consultations in person and online.


  1. Covers anaemia quite comprehensively. Informative articles like this one would go a long way in educating the readers about medical conditions and healthy behaviours. The icing on the cake would be an increasing readership of the magazine as a byproduct. Congratulations to the author.

  2. All the possible information on Anaemia is perfectly covered in this article very precisely. It will surely help all of us to become more aware of how to prevent & treat this so commonly occurring health disorder.
    Looking forward to more such articles!


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