Inadequate Diets Can Lead to Anemia in Older Women

Postmenopausal women who don't get enough nutrients in their diets have an increased risk of becoming anemic, according to a new study.

Women who are deficient in more than one nutrient are 21 percent more likely to be anemic than women who have one or no nutritional inadequacies, the study found.

And that risk increases to 44 percent for women who are deficient in three different nutrients, said study researcher Cynthia A. Thomson, associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Arizona.

Anemia occurs when there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues in your body. It often results in fatigue and can lead to heart problems, Thomson said.

Anemia is "preventable with adequate diet, and thus we need to be aware of risk and routinely assess risk to assure we intervene, hopefully before there are serious health consequences," Thomson told MyHealthNewsDaily.

Women with anemia tend to consume less protein, folate , vitamin B12, iron, vitamin C and red meat than women without anemia, according to the study. Inadequate intake of iron, vitamin B12 and folate each increased the chance of anemia by 10 to 20 percent, the study said.

Researchers examined the nutritional data of 72,833 postmenopausal women who participated in the nine-year Women's Health Initiative study. Of those women, 5.5 percent were anemic, the study revealed.

Researchers found that inadequacy of three different nutrients was less prevalent in white women (7.4 percent) than in other ethnicities (14.6 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders, 15.3 percent of African Americans and 16.3 percent of Hispanics), the study said.

This could be a result of dietary differences between different racial groups for example, Asian, African-American and Hispanic women in the study may eat less red meat or nutrient-fortified cereal products than white women, Thomson said.

The best way to ensure you're getting enough nutrients is not to take a variety of multivitamins, but rather to eat a wide variety of foods in each food group, Thomson said.

The study will be published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Pass it on: Postmenopausal women who are nutritionally deficient have an increased risk of anemia.

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Amanda Chan
Amanda Chan was a staff writer for Live Science Health. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.