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Anemia – Risk Factors

October 21, 2013

Anemia due to iron deficiency often is the result of poor nutrition in people. About 2 billion individuals in the world suffer from this type of anemia and in the United States the lack of iron in the body is the number one type of nutritional deficiency in this country. Iron-deficiency anemia often goes hand in hand with poverty and people in the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder have twice the chances of acquiring anemia than people in the upper or middle class.

In the United States and the rest of the world, it is young children who are at the highest chances for developing iron deficiency anemia; women in their premenopausal phase are next. Those with the lowest risk for this type of anemia include postmenopausal females and adult and adolescent males.


In the US about 20% of children can develop anemia during their childhood and up to adolescence. The percentage is higher for children in third world countries (80%).   Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia found in children. Still, there are other different types of anemia that can affect children; anemia caused by hereditary blood conditions is one of them.

For children two years old and younger around 9% suffer from iron deficiency but only 3% of kids in this age bracket have anemia. All children are prone to getting anemia but the lower the income of the family, the higher the risk of children developing iron deficiency.

In the United States, infants who are 9 to 18 months old are the age group with the highest possibility of developing iron-deficiency anemia. Infant males are 10 times likelier to develop iron deficiency anemia than female infants. Infants who are breast fed can rely on their mother’s milk to supply them with enough iron up to the time they reach 6 months old. Beyond that they need to avail of other food sources for their essential iron requirements.

In small children and infants the likely causes for their iron-deficiency anemia can include factors such as:

  • Breastfeeding stoppage too soon or utilizing milk formula that does not contain iron
  • Prolonged bottle-feeding – Research has determined that toddlers a year old and above should refrain from drinking more than a cup of milk a day. Unlike mother’s milk, cow’s milk contains lower amounts of iron and drinking it too much can make the babies lose their appetite and hinder them from taking in foods rich in iron which they really need.

Usually toddlers would find foods rich in iron unpalatable. Nevertheless, parents should ensure that these babies eat foods laden with iron including:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Fortified cereals
  • Meat
  • Beans

Pre-menopausal Women

The rate of adult and adolescent females suffering from iron deficiency is around 10%. Only 3% of adolescent females are likely to become anemic though. If ever adolescent women experience anemia, it may be because of some of the following factors:

  • Pregnancy – The rate of iron deficiency among pregnant females in the industrialized world is about 20%. Multiple pregnancies heighten the risk of pregnant women having iron deficiency anemia.
  • Abnormal bleeding in the uterus – This may be due to uterine fibroids
  • Massive menstruation lasting 5 days or more

Older Adults

The rate of anemia sufferers among adults 65 years of age and above is about 10%.  Around half of the older people staying in nursing homes are anemic. Older adults develop due to the following factors:

  • Chronic renal disease
  • Chronic inflammatory disease
  • Nutritional deficiencies


People who regularly drink alcohol can develop anemia in three ways:

  • Hemorrhage
  • Lack of vitamin B
  • Lack of folate

Iron-Poor Diets

Most Americans love to eat meat. Still, there are instances when people can likely develop iron deficiency because of their diet choices. Iron deficiency can develop when:

  • People often eat processed foods that may incredibly be bereft of real meat
  • The person is a vegan – A vegan is a person that exclusively feeds on non meat and non dairy diets. A diet without meat often is lacking in iron vitamin B and iron.  Green vegetables and dried beans do contain iron, but they take more time to be absorbed by the body than meat

Serious or Chronic Illnesses

If a person suffers from a chronic ailment that entails bleeding or inflammation, then that person will be a good candidate in developing anemia. Critical or serious illness of a patient in the ICU (intensive care unit) can likely include some form of anemia.

Too Much Exercise

Regular workout may have a lot of health and fitness benefits but at a minor cost: loss of iron that is equivalent to iron loss due to menstruation. The common cause for sports anemia is poor diet choices. Sports anemia can also come from sustained and intense, exercises such as a marathon run and the underlying factors that cause this problem can include:

  • Poor absorption of iron by the intestines
  • Low intake of iron
  • Impaired  RBCs (red blood cells)
  • Slight hemorrhage of the gastrointestinal tract


Iron deficiency is experienced by around 20% of pregnant females in developed countries. Sadly about half and even more of females in non-industrialized nations lack in iron, and about 30% to 50% are lacking in folic acid. A high death rate and severe anemia go together among pregnant females although light to fair anemia do not really pose any heightened risk.

Pregnancy heightens the risk of anemia by:

  • Enhancing the body’s need for more folic acid increasing the chances for deficiencies as well as increasing likelihood for megaloblastic anemia
  • Enhances the body’s need for iron increasing the chance for iron-deficiency anemia Increasing the intake of iron to at least 30 mg per day due to the placenta’s increasing size and weight
  • Creating large amounts of plasma which can lead to the dilution of red blood cells and eventually causing anemia.


Brent Keime is a licensed acupuncturist and the founder of Brent Keime, LAc, MSTOM in San Diego, CA.