As a child, I was fascinated by the sight of some people shaking their legs almost involuntarily as they went about their usual routine. More so, I was interested in emulating that behaviour. It was only much later, when studying the subject of anaemia, that I learnt that Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is caused by iron deficiency.
Another episode that made sense to me after many years was about a friend in high school who loved chewing on ice. I had believed it to be a quirky preference, but the real issue was anaemia. Persistent intake of non-nutritive substances such as clay/dirt/hair/ice is a well-known feature of iron deficiency. Fortunately, this is reversible with correcting the deficiency.
Iron deficiency is a common form of anaemia. Poshan Maah and the Anaemia Mukt Bharat campaign, which are underway at the national level, have greatly enhanced awareness on this issue.
The lack of available iron in the diet is one of the major factors leading to the anaemic condition. A fact that does not get much attention is that iron deficiency can have various consequences other than anaemia in the human body. Low iron levels also impact mental functioning, attention span, memory and academic performance in children. Lower IQ scores of anaemic children, as opposed to those who are not anaemic, is a striking example.
The good news is that the mental functions can improve after the iron level is restored. But this restoration must take place urgently, as soon as the deficiency is detected. Infants found to be low on iron should be treated without delay so that the damage in cognition does not become irreversible.
There is also a fairly direct connection that needs to be made between iron deficiency and the economic burden it can pose to a country. In a study conducted with school children in Hyderabad, it was noted that performance on physical fitness, work output and endurance was poor in the anaemic group.
Work capacity and economics are of course closely linked. Symptoms such as shortness of breath and easy fatigability are common complaints among women in the reproductive age group, and anaemia is often the cause. Fortunately, this, too, is a correctable problem.
The most insidious effect of low iron is the fact that it predisposes you to infections of all kinds. The deficiency significantly hampers the functioning of the immune system. However, the tricky part is that during an ongoing infection, one should refrain from taking iron supplements as this may actually benefit the invading microbes. Therefore, it is prudent to prevent iron deficiency from setting in at all. An iron-rich diet plays the most crucial role here. Some of the good vegetarian sources of iron are bajra, amaranth leaves, drumstick leaves and soya etc.
Nutrition Therapist & Wellness Consultant