Can lack of iron in the diet cause anemia?
Siamak T. Nabili, MD, MPH
A lack of iron can cause anemia, and iron deficiency is a very common cause of anemia. This is because iron is major component of hemoglobin and is essential for its proper function. Chronic blood loss for any reason is the main cause of low iron levels in the body as it can deplete its iron stores to compensate for the ongoing loss of blood. Anemia that is due to low iron levels is called iron deficiency anemia.
Women are more likely than men to have iron deficiency anemia because of the loss of blood each month through normal menstruation. This is generally without any major symptoms as the blood loss is relatively small and temporary.
Iron deficiency anemia can also be due to small repeated instances of blood loss, for instance from colon cancer or from stomach ulcers. Stomach ulcer bleeding may be induced by medications, even by very common over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). In infants and young children, iron deficiency anemia is most often due to a diet lacking in iron.
A doctor's interpretation of complete blood count (CBC) results may give clues to suggest this type of anemia. For instance, iron deficiency anemia usually occurs with low mean corpuscular volume (microcytic anemia) in addition to low hemoglobin.