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Iron Out Your Fatigue

August 26, 2016

You get at least seven hours of sleep every night, so why do you still feel immensely tired the next day?

The good news is, you’re not alone – nearly 50% of Singaporeans reported experiencing general fatigue during the day, according to a nationwide health survey by Merck Consumer Health that was done in conjunction with World Health Day 2016. The bad news? You could be suffering from iron-deficiency anaemia (IDA), especially if you’re pregnant or experience prolonged menstrual bleeding. IDA is a common type of anaemia in which the body does not have adequate healthy red blood cells. If left untreated, IDA could lead to dire consequences such as heart failure and pregnancy complications.

Aside from general fatigue, other common symptoms of IDA include cold hands and feet, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, and pale skin. While the risk of having IDA is higher among women of reproductive age, it may also be a sign of underlying gastrointestinal abnormalities or rare blood disorders.

In the same vein, the survey also found that only 12% of Singaporeans consume red meat, and 49% consume green vegetables every day – this suggests Singaporeans are not meeting the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of iron, which is 19mg for women who are menstruating or undergoing pregnancy and lactation, and 6mg for women 60 years old and above. Says nutritionist Toh Yun Xuan from Singapore Heart Foundation, “Women should switch focus from vanity to wellbeing as most diet plans out there require cutting calories and omitting food group(s), which may result in IDA and other nutrient-deficient related diseases.”

To find out more about IDA and the types of food we should consume, we speak to Toh for the answers.

Certain types of vegetables, such as lentil, provide a richer source of iron when compared to meats. So why do we often hear healthcare professionals say that vegetarians and vegans are more prone to suffer from IDA?

Toh: A point to clarify: strict vegetarians and vegans are more prone to anaemia, not due to iron deficiency but vitamin B12 deficiency. This is because vitamin B12 only comes naturally from animals and is excluded from their diets. Hence, to prevent vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia, they need to incorporate foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 such as cereals or fermented food like tempeh. In general, if one opts for a healthy balanced meal all or most of the time or most of the time, IDA can be prevented unless they have pre-existing conditions like fibroids, polyps, adenomyosis, hormonal imbalance, have an intrauterine device for contraception, diabetes, kidney disease, stomach ulcer or chronic bleeding.

There are certain minerals – calcium, zinc, magnesium, and copper – that can inhibit the absorption of iron. Does that mean we have to eat specific mineral-rich foods or supplements at different times of the day to maximise absorption rates?

Toh: These minerals interfere with iron absorption; calcium being the inhibitor, whilst zinc, magnesium and copper are known as the competitors.

Going by the dietary approach, we don’t have to deliberately eat any mineral rich foods. We can just stick to a heart-healthy balanced meal, reduce the exposure and effect of iron inhibitors (foods that contain phytic acids, phytate, polyphenols, and calcium), and add in iron enhancers such as vitamin C. Below are a few examples of the food sources from which the aforementioned chemicals can be found:

Milk cheese yogurt eggs

– Phytate/Phytic acids: cereals and legumes
– Polyphenols: coffee and tea (higher in black tea), cereal and legumes
– Calcium: dairy products like milk, cheese, yoghurt
– Vitamin C: fruit and vegetables

 

 

What’s your take on detox diets like juice cleansing?

Toh: Everyone should be more mindful about the juice cleanse hype on social media. It is often a marketing tactic to draw attention and boost product sales, rather than a nutritional reality.

Most would require people to fast, eat inadequately or cut away food group(s). These caloric reductions can lead to nutrients deficiencies. While people will see results of almost-immediate weight loss, the main constituent of rapid weight loss in these approaches are water and glycogen loss, rather than fat. This is only a short-lived achievement after which they will experience a rebound in weight once they resume their old eating habits, after the “detox period”.

Our body functions as a natural detox system which constantly filters out, breaks down and excretes toxins and waste products from our body system through major organs such as our liver and kidneys. We’ll need to keep them healthy for better functioning through maintaining a healthy lifestyle such as eating healthily, keeping a healthy weight, staying active and well-hydrated, and not smoking. Doing all these not only keeps your liver and kidneys healthy, but also improves your wellbeing so you feel healthier and more energised.