Recently, a healthy looking 25-year-old woman came to my clinic complaining that she had been rejected as a blood donor: “I was told I am anaemic as my haemoglobin level is very low. I am young, I avoid fast food and exercise regularly, so how is this possible?”
I told her: “Anaemia is caused by iron deficiency, and it is a very common problem for women, especially those who like you are in their childbearing years, due to reduced intake of leafy, green vegetables, menstrual blood loss, increased iron demands for pregnancy and blood loss during childbirth.”
I asked her to increase her iron intake by adding dates, chicken and fish to her diet, as well as taking fortified iron tablets regularly, adding: “Iron deficiency not only makes you lethargic, it can also trigger strokes and nervous system disorders.”
In another instance, a 42-year-old woman, a teacher, came complaining of chronic fatigue, muscle aches, cramps and joint stiffness. “I do yoga, take vitamin C tablets regularly and nothing shows up in my tests,” she said. “What am I doing wrong?”
Given her symptoms and knowing that she spends most of her time indoors with almost no exposure to sunlight, I advised her to do a vitamin D deficiency test. It turned out that while her other vitals were within the normal range, she had excessively low levels of vitamin D.
I explained to her that our bodies need vitamin D for strong bones and healthy muscles and the body makes the vitamin only when our skin is exposed to sunlight; I added that unfortunately, there are very few foods that contain it in sufficient amounts. I advised her to have vitamin D shots immediately, cautioning: “If you don’t want to pop pills, put on some sun screen and start spending time in the sunlight – and don’t worry about getting a tan!”
– Dr Waqar Saeed
The writer is a general physician.
First published in the Health Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 8, 2015.