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Why Seniors Need Extra Iron

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By Mary Cordova, EVP Business Development, Concierge Care Advisors

As we age, there are certain common changes that occur in the body. Our hearts begin to beat just a little slower, our arteries become a little stiffer, our muscles become a little weaker, and our brains become a little smaller. All these normal changes have minor side effects, such as dizziness, tiredness, forgetfulness, and weakness. These symptoms mimic those of another condition which can happen at any age – Anemia.

I was born with a genetic form of anemia called Thalassemia. For me to live successfully with this disease, I must get intravenous iron infusions about every 18-24 months. Out of necessity, I have done a lot of personal research on how to gain, and maintain, the iron reserves in my body. What I have found is that it is not only iron that is needed, but rather a combination of nutrients which make iron absorption more possible. The foods you eat influence not only how much iron you consume, but also how well it is absorbed into your body. For iron to be absorbed, you not only need to consume a diet with iron-rich foods, but also high in Vitamin C, A, and B-12.

Anemia is common in the elderly, and usually falls into two categories: Anemia of chronic disease, and iron deficiency anemia. Anemia of chronic disease is the most common form of anemia in the elderly. Numerous diseases are associated with anemia of chronic disease, and something as simple as Osteoarthritis or a Urinary Tract Infection can cause an onset of anemia. Iron deficiency anemia can be due to blood loss or hemorrhaging, but in most cases is a dietary issue caused by inadequate intake of the proper nutrients to gain and maintain iron reserves. In either case, eating the right foods and taking the right supplements can make a big difference in how your body feels every day. Without blood loss, iron deficiency anemia takes several years to develop, which is why it is often overlooked, as it’s symptoms are common to the typical aging process.

Here are some things to consider when moving to an iron-rich diet:
• There are 2 forms of dietary iron – Heme and Non-Heme.
• Heme iron is more readily absorbed by your body, and is found in meat sources such as beef, pork, chicken, veal, and fish.
• Non-Heme iron is primarily found in plant sources, or in fortified foods. These include dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, dried fruits and fortified cereals.
• Foods rich in Vitamin C help you absorb iron. These include citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, bell peppers, melons and strawberries. It is a good idea to eat these foods at the same time as Heme and Non-Heme foods.
• Foods containing high amounts of Vitamin A, or Beta-Carotene which is converted to Vitamin A inside the body, also assist in the absorption of iron in Heme and Non-Heme foods. Good food sources of beta-carotene and vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, squash, red peppers, cantaloupe, apricots, oranges and peaches.
• Foods that are high in B-12 help with the absorption of Non-Heme iron sources, making them vitally important in vegetarian diets.
• Calcium interferes with iron absorption. Having some milk on your cereal is acceptable, but don’t drink milk with meals outside of breakfast if you are trying to move away from an anemic condition. Also, take calcium supplements at bedtime. Calcium Citrate is absorbed more readily than Calcium Carbonate and has been proven to enhance sleep.
• If you aren’t sure that you are eating enough of the right foods to keep anemia at bay, consider taking high-quality supplements.

Most people can avoid anemia in their lives and have the energy, strength and sharpness that is provided by an iron-rich, healthy diet. Happy eating!

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