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Postmenopausal women with inadequate nutritional intake have a higher risk of developing anemia, according to the results of a new study—leading researchers to speculate that nutritional intake and quality of diet should be an important focus as women age.[1]

Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells, which are critical for transporting oxygen to body tissues. Anemia is the most common blood disorder and often goes undiagnosed because symptoms can be vague. Most often, anemia results in a general feeling of fatigue, weakness, or poor concentration. Anemia can be a serious problem, affecting overall health and the ability to work and/or be physically active. It is a serious concern for aging women because it can result in falls and hospitalizations.

Anemia is often linked to an iron deficiency, but this new study sheds even more light on the nutritional connection to the condition. Researchers analyzed data from 72,833 older women in the United States. They found that women with anemia consumed less protein, folate, vitamin B12, iron, vitamin C, and red meat than women without anemia. Furthermore, women who had a deficiency in more than a single nutrient had a 21 percent increased risk of anemia. That risk jumped to 44 percent with deficiencies in three nutrients. Use of multivitamins and mineral supplements was not associated with lower rates of anemia; however, age, body mass index (BMI), and smoking were associated with anemia.

The takeaway message is simple and clear—a healthy diet becomes increasingly important as we age. It’s imperative that postmenopausal women consume an adequate amount of iron, vitamin B12, and folate to minimize the risk of developing anemia. Healthy habits are the best line of defense to prevent anemia and maintain quality of life.

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[1] Thomson CA, Stanaway JD, Neuhouser ML, et al. Nutrient intake and anemia risk in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2011; 111(4): 532-541.