How to Stay on Top of Anemia

Fall is upon us now and many of you have just finished or are finishing up your triathlon season. Perhaps some of you are already considering goals for next year. As you slide into your recovery phase, how many of you have had your blood tested? Do you know which vitamins and minerals you're lacking?

Having just battled a bout of anemia myself, I recognize the importance of staying ahead of the game. Just like any potential injury, if you don't follow preventive care measures and monitor the situation, you are more susceptible to problems. Anemia is no different. By definition, anemia is when one's hemoglobin levels fall below what is normal for that individual's age and gender, thus resulting in a lack of oxygen carried by the blood. Perhaps the most commonly known culprit for anemia is an iron deficiency in the body. In this case, there is not enough iron to make adequate hemoglobin, the carrier of oxygen. Another cause for anemia is a B-12/folate deficiency which prevents red blood cells from replicating quickly enough.

A pseudoanemia, commonly found among runners, is appropriately called footstrike anemia (or hemolysis). According to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), footstrike anemia is "caused by the pounding of the feet on pavement...Symptoms include an increase in plasma with disintegration of red blood cells, and in long-distance runners, gastrointestinal blood loss." When the female patient in JAMA's study stopped running for four weeks, per doctor's orders, her red cell volume significantly increased.

It is advised that people not self-diagnose their condition and start taking supplements, but rather get a blood test and a doctor's recommendation. Effects of iron-deficiency anemia include the following: extreme fatigue, nausea after aerobic activity, ice craving, and (probably what you are most alert to) a decline in athletic performance. Following a good diet--eating plenty of meat and poultry, ingesting plenty of vitamin-C, and avoiding coffee and tea which inhibit iron uptake--is an excellent way to stay on top of the issue. However, if you are already feeling the effects of iron-deficiency anemia, you should seek the advice of a doctor. Once your iron stores have dropped too low, eating a huge spinach salad isn't going to boost your performance back to where it was.

On a personal note, I had my blood tested a full year after my Ironman and discovered that my hematocrit levels were too low. My decision to get my blood tested was a result of enduring a very painful Chicago Marathon due to extreme low energy, and a loss of breath when running what I used to consider simple hills. I have found that taking a Hemaplex tablet once a day in the evening with a cup of herbal tea has boosted my energy. It contains 500 mcg of vitamin B-12, 85 mg of iron as an amino acid chelate (a complex more easily absorbed by the digestive track) and vitamin C (300 mg) for iron absorption. I'm going to get another blood test at the end of this month.

For a recipe with good sources of iron try lean beef, spinach and mushroom lasagna from triathlete and recipe writer Wendy McMillan.

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