Anemia is a major public health problem worldwide. It is a condition that occurs when there is an insufficient number of red blood cells (RBCs) or if the level of hemoglobin (HGB) in RBCs is below normal. Anemia can be mild, moderate, or severe. During the initial days, it could be so mild that you do not notice it. This problem is widespread among females of reproductive age, particularly in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 40 per cent of pregnant women worldwide are anemic.
Women, especially working, are often unable to focus on their health as much as they should. This leads to the development of various unwanted health issues such as anemia that can contribute to low immunity. Owing to a hectic work schedule, higher stress levels, and improper diet, anemia is highly prevalent in working-class women, directly affecting the overall quality of life. Moreover, as the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc and claiming lives, it is essential for working women to build their immunity by taking all the necessary steps to address iron deficiencies in their bodies.
Iron deficiency is the primary cause of anemia in women, and persistent anemia over a long period of time can lead to various health concerns including:
- Weaker immunity
- Poor concentration
- Paleness of the skin
- Increased heart rate
Moreover, the risk of developing anemia is higher in women who experience longer menstruation and heavy bleeding during menstruation. In most women, iron deficiency anemia is caused by an inadequate diet or their body’s inability to absorb iron. Hence, today’s working women need to take their iron deficiency seriously in order to boost their immunity by taking the necessary steps to ensure optimum haemoglobin levels (more than bara or twelve).
According to Dr Mamta Dighe – MBBS, MD,DNB, Gynaecologist & Obstetrician Doctors, Laparoscopic Surgeon, Infertility Specialist, IVF Specialist, Pune – anemia can cause several issues over a long period of time and therefore women should be follow a healthy lifestyle.
“Iron deficiency causes considerable reduction in physical working capacity because of weakness and fatigue, which can directly hamper the overall productivity of working individuals. Hence, I strongly recommend women to maintain their haemoglobin levels more than bara (twelve), which is the internationally established standard value. It begins with awareness about anemia and the issues that it can cause over a long period of time. Also, when women conceive, anemia causes several complications during and after pregnancy, and even the baby can develop anemia. The point to be taken home is this – good habits such as eating right, exercising, and regularly checking iron levels can help women lead a healthier life and even reduce pregnancy-related complications. Healthy mothers can give birth to healthy babies and this will help in reducing the prevalence of anemia in India,” Dr Dighe said.
According to experts, working women work twice as hard to reach their professional goals and in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, household responsibilities have also added to the increased work pressure. Women now have longer working hours usually with minimal support. Hence, conditions such as anemia can not only impact their health and personal life but their professional life as well. As hard as it may be, working women need to prioritize their health even more during the time of this global health crisis.
According to Dr.Rajapriya Ayyappan – MD, DNB, FRCOG, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Chennai – the primary step to take precautions against anemia is to make basic lifestyle and dietary changes.
“Consuming food rich in iron is an essential step towards preventing and combating iron deficiency anemia. To do that, one must know that iron in food is present in two forms – heme that is found in animal-based diets and non-heme that primarily comes from plants. A healthy diet is the key for maintaining an iron count of bara. Also, reducing stress levels especially by working women is also important because stress affects your overall health, including iron metabolism. A balanced lifestyle along with good dietary habits is essential for preventing iron deficiency anemia.”
Various studies have proven that heme is the best source of iron, and up to 40% of it is easily absorbed by your body. Foods that are an excellent source of heme are liver, chicken, seafood, eggs and lean red meat. Women can also include fishes like halibut, haddock, perch, salmon and tuna to your daily diet to boost their overall immune system. It is estimated that up to 85–90% of total iron requirement can be met from non-heme foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, beans, dark chocolate, lentils, spinach, nuts and seeds. These non-heme foods are fresh, readily available and budget-friendly, making them ideal for increasing iron levels in the body. Apart from these foods, adding folic acid and vitamin B12 to your daily diet also aids in producing healthy red blood cells, which directly contribute to better haemoglobin levels in the body.
“Including foods like dark leafy vegetables, dry fruits, beans and fortified cereals in your daily diet can significantly boost your iron levels. With a wide variety of food options available, today’s women can easily maintain their iron count of more than bara. Eating healthy instead of opting for ready-to-eat junk food items is very important. Also, taking iron supplements for 3 months straight on a yearly basis also helps in reaching the goal of more than bara count. Apart from iron-rich food, women should also consume good proteins, which helps in better iron absorption and maintaining an overall healthy haemoglobin level,” said Dr. Suvarna Khadilkar – MD, DGO, FICOG – Gynaecologist & Obstetrician Doctors, Mumbai.
Summarizing the importance of maintaining optimum iron levels by working women, Dr. Nivedita Pawar – MBBS,MD – Obstetrician, Infertility Specialist, Gynecologic Surgeon, IVF Specialist, Nashik – added, “For working women, maintaining the right iron count is highly essential and it is all about caring for your body. Women must eat iron-rich food, maintain a clean and healthy lifestyle, exercise, undergo deworming on an annual basis for ensuring better iron absorption, and minimize their stress levels. They should also get their iron and vitamin levels checked on a periodic basis in order to take the appropriate corrective measures at the early stage. Maintaining a healthy iron count and preventing anemia are highly important especially during this pandemic.”
Thus, with a few easy lifestyle and dietary changes, working women can prevent iron deficiency anemia altogether. Although working women face time constraints for caring for their own health, they need to keep their meals wholesome and timely to stay healthy and productive, which can be easily accomplished by making the right food choices.