A noticeable proportion of postmenopausal women with anemia are not eating properly, researchers from Tucson, Arizona, reveal in a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. When the total number of red blood cells or hemoglobin concentrations are too low, a person has anemia. Hemoglobin, a protein, exists in red blood cells, it contains iron and transports vital oxygen.

Study leader, Cynthia A. Thomson, PhD, RD, said:

“This study suggests that inadequate nutrient intakes are a significant risk factor for anemia in this population of older women and use of multivitamin/mineral supplements is not associated with lower rates of anemia. Overall mortality is increased in relation to a diagnosis of anemia, and anemia, particularly iron deficiency, has been associated with reduced capacity for physical work and physical inactivity, injury related to falls and hospitalizations, making this an important health care concern in the aging.”

The authors explained that there have not been many studies focusing on the relationship between diet and anemia in independently living women over the last two decades.

The researchers gathered data from WHI-OS (Observational Cohort of the Women’s Health Initiative), consisting of 72,833 adult females. They discovered that if women were not consuming enough of one single nutrient, they ran a 21% higher risk of persistent anemia; deficiencies in three nutrients raised their risk by 44%.

The following ethnic female groups had deficiencies of three anemia-associated nutrients:

  • Non-Hispanic whites – 7.4%
  • Native Americans and Alaskans – 15.2%
  • Asian/Pacific Islander – 14.6%
  • African-Americans – 15.3%
  • Hispanic/Latinos – 16.3%

Anemia in females was linked to inadequate consumption of vitamin B12, vitamin C, red meat, folate, protein and energy. The researchers also found that deficiencies in iron, folate and vitamin B12 were individually associated with a 10% to 20% higher risk of developing anemia – with a 21% risk of persistent anemia. There was also a link between anemia and smoking, BMI (body mass index) and age.

The authors added that the Women’s Health Initiative is one of the most wide-ranging sources of health, diet and general data ever gathered in the USA, including information over a 9-year period.

The authors conclude:

“Efforts to identify anemia that may be responsive to modifiable factors such as diet to improve health outcomes are needed. Additional efforts to regularly evaluate postmenopausal women for anemia should be considered and should be accompanied by an assessment of dietary intake to determine adequacy of intake of anemia-associated nutrients including iron, vitamin B12 and folate.

While the type of anemia is often designated by a more comprehensive biochemical assessment than hemoglobin alone, nutritional therapy to improve overall nutrient-density and quality of the diet should also be a clinical focus.”

Accompanying Editorial – Lisa Turring-Humphreys, PhD, RD, wrote:

“The study by Thomson and colleagues extends the literature by providing one of the largest prospective assessments of diet and anemia in US postmenopausal women.”

Anemia is common in older people anyway, the authors added. A significant number of older patients have anemia which is not linked to nutritional causes.

“Nutrient Intake and Anemia Risk in the WHI Observational Study”
Cynthia A. Thomson, PhD, RD, Jeffrey Stanaway, MPH, Marian L. Neuhouser, PhD, RD, Linda G. Snetselaar, RD, PhD, LD, Marcia L. Stefanick, PhD, Leslie Arendell, MS, and Zhao Chen, PhD, MPH. Journal of the American Dietetic Association (April issue)

Written by Christian Nordqvist