Iron in Old Age
Iron deficiency among adolescent girls and women of child bearing age has been an oft discussed topic. There have been pan-country programmes to provide supplements to these groups of girls and women. Role of iron in helping young children remain physically active and concentrate in classes etc. have been well established too. But how about iron requirements of the elderly? Does the declining physical and mental activity with age mean that they no longer need as much iron?
Nutritionists say, elderly may in fact be in need of iron supplementation. In a study conducted in Pennsylvania actually found a large percentage of women they tested on to be iron deficient. What effects does this deficiency of iron among the elderly lead to?
- Declining ability for physical activity-Iron, embedded in hemoglobin, helps transport oxygen to various parts in our body. Hemoglobin content in blood declines with declining iron intake. Deficiency of this carrier of oxygen in our bodies reduces the capacity of our muscles to act swiftly. This causes tiredness, short breath-in general an overall ability to strain the body physically.
- Declining ability to engage in meaningful mental exercises-Like our muscles need oxygen to move, our brain needs oxygen to think and concentrate. The deficiency of iron leads to the same effects it has on our physical muscles. This may reduce an elderly person’s ability to think clearly and concentrate as well as balance the body. This may lead to memory losses or at times physical injuries due to falls.
- Declining ability to fight infection-studies have shown that the response to infection among the iron deficient people is much more than the ones who have adequate iron. This also translates to longer healing. Increased chances of infection and longer healing processes further deplete an elderly body.
Iron supplements may be needed in some cases but eating right can help prevent iron deficiencies or the need for supplementation. The foods that are rich in iron are meats, sea food, green leafy vegetables, beans and lentils. Even when people consume good amounts of these foods, they may suffer from iron deficiency. This may happen due to poor absorption. Ability to absorb iron may decline with age. How do we overcome this problem of absorption? There are two simple steps:
- Have vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruit, guava, gooseberry, papaya etc. with the iron rich food
- Avoid intake of tannin rich food such as tea and coffee for an hour before and after food consumption