If a lack of iron in your diet is thought to contribute to your iron deficiency anaemia, your GP will advise on how to include more iron in your diet. Iron deficiency anaemia is often caused by heavy periods, pregnancy (the growing baby requires more iron from mother), or poor diet. Rarely it can be bowel conditions i.e. Coeliac disease or intestinal problems
Improving your diet
Iron-rich foods include:
- dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress and curly kale
- iron-fortified cereals
- wholegrains, such as brown rice
- nuts, meat
- apricots, prunes, raisins
To ensure a healthy, well-balanced diet, include foods from all major food groups in your diet. If you have iron deficiency anaemia, eat plenty of iron-rich foods, such as those listed above.
Foods that affect iron absorption
However, some foods and medicines can make it harder for your body to absorb iron. These may include:
- tea and coffee
- calcium, found in dairy products such as milk
- antacids (medication to help relieve indigestion)
- proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which affect the production of acid in your stomach
- wholegrain cereals - although wholegrains are a good source of iron themselves, they contain phytic acid which can interfere with how your body absorbs iron from other foods and pills
Taking iron medication
The doctor may recommend that you take iron tablets to bring up your iron levels and build up your stores in your body. Drinking orange juice when you take your iron tablets can increase the absorption of iron into your body. Some people have side-effects when taking iron. These include: feeling sick (nausea), an upset stomach, constipation, or diarrhoea. You should tell a doctor if side-effects are a problem. Don't stop the iron or the anaemia will not get better. Possible ways to reduce the problem with side-effects are:
- Taking the iron tablets with meals. Food reduces the absorption of the iron and so you may need to take a longer course to correct the anaemia.
- Taking a lower dose, but again a longer course will be needed to correct the anaemia.
- Drinking plenty of fluids if constipation develops.
- Iron tablets may make your stools black. This is normal and nothing to worry about. However, it is sometimes confused with blood in the stools from internal bleeding, which can also make your stools black.