Reducing The Risk Of Anemia With Coconut Iron Content

  • Pranjal Ajit Yeole Bachelor's of Biological Sciences, Biology/Biological Sciences, General, University of Warwick, UK
  • Prabha Rana Masters in Medical Biotechnology, Univeristy of Bologna, Italy

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Anemia

Anemia is an abnormal blood condition in which your blood produces an insufficient amount of healthy red blood cells. As red blood cells carry oxygen to your body tissues, and if you have this abnormal blood condition, then your body tissues are not getting enough oxygen. 

Symptoms

This causes symptoms such as 

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath.

Prevalence and demographic distribution

Anemia is now a global public health concern affecting young children, menstruating people assigned female at birth (AFAB), and pregnant and postpartum people AFAB. According to WHO 40% of children 6–59 months of age, 37% of pregnant people AFAB, and 30% of people AFAB 15–49 years of age worldwide are anemic.²

You may have anemia due to poor diet, chronic infections, gynaecological and obstetrics conditions, and hereditary red blood cell disorders. In low and middle-income countries, the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia is due to the lack of nutrient-rich foods.

Types of anemia

There are many types of anemia, including:

  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Vitamin B12-deficiency anemia
  • Hemolytic anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type that occurs when your body doesn't have enough iron.³

Importance of iron

Iron is an essential component of your body, maintaining various bodily functions, including producing haemoglobin- an erythrocyte protein. Maintaining healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails is also necessary.

Iron from the food you eat is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract cells. Then, it is released in the main bloodstream, where the iron molecule is attached to a protein known as transferrin. This protein then carries the iron molecule and delivers it to the liver. In the liver, this iron molecule is stored in the form of ferritin and is released when needed to produce new red blood cells in bone marrow. An interesting point to note is that after 120 days of red blood cell circulation in the blood, they are taken up by the spleen. The spleen then re-absorbs the iron from these old red blood cells. 

In addition, you may have this anemia due to poor nutrition and blood loss, reduced iron bioavailability, and perhaps due to parasitic infections. Menstruating people with AFAB, pregnant and breastfeeding individuals with AFAB, and people who have undergone major surgery and physical trauma are at higher risk of iron deficiency anemia.

Diagnoses and treatment

Iron deficiency anemia is diagnosed through a complete blood test (CBC). CBC test results would identify affected individuals with low haemoglobin, low ferritin iron, low serum iron, low iron saturation, decrease in red blood cells and increase in platelets.

It can be combated by maintaining a healthy diet of good sources of iron, medicinal iron, intravenous iron.

Dietary sources of iron

Good sources of iron include beans, dried fruits, eggs, lean red meat, salmon, iron-fortified bread, cereals, peas, tofu, and dark green leafy vegetables. The recommended amount of iron your body needs is dependent on age, sex, and pregnancy or breastfeeding. 

While most of us are aware of traditional dietary sources of iron, not many are familiar with the iron content in coconut. This article explores the potential of coconut, particularly its iron content, in reducing the risk of anemia. While there's limited research specifically on coconut iron content and anemia, existing studies on coconut's nutritional composition, bioavailability, and traditional uses suggest that it may be a valuable dietary resource in the battle against anemia.

Different forms of dietary iron

Dietary iron has two forms.

  • Heme
  • Non-heme

Heme is present in an animal-based diet and is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme that is obtained from a plant-based diet. This is because non-heme absorption depends upon various factors, including the presence of dietary inhibitors, such as phytates and polyphenols, and dietary enhancers, such as vitamin C. 

Coconut

Coconut, scientifically known as Cocos nucifera, is rich in nutrients and is a healthy food choice to add to your daily diet to prevent anemia. According to the US Department of Agriculture, coconut iron content is 2.43mg/100 g. While coconut is not considered the primary source of iron, but the unique aspect of coconut depends upon its bioavailability.

Bioavailability:

Bioavailability refers to the measure of the proportion of the total in food to the absorbed and metabolized by the body. Dietary iron bioavailability can be increased by increasing the food components that enhance iron absorption and decreasing the food components that decrease iron absorption.

Vitamin C-Iron enhancer:

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is the only dietary constituent that increases the absorption of dietary iron in humans. According to the US Department of Agriculture, coconut vitamin C content is 3.3mg/100 g. Vitamin C converts ferric iron to ferrous iron, which is absorbed by the human body easily. Also, vitamin C forms soluble complexes with iron, preventing it from binding to other dietary components that may inhibit absorption. Surprisingly, coconut water is a good source of iron.

Nutrition of coconut water:

There are 44 calories, 0.5g of protein, 10.4g of carbohydrates, and 0g of fat in one cup of 100% coconut water (245g). Thus, coconut water is a great source of vitamin C. The USDA has given the dietary facts listed below:

  • Calories- 44
  • Fat- 0g
  • Sodium- 64mg
  • Carbohydrates- 10.4g
  • Fiber- 0g
  • Sugar- 9.6g
  • Protein- 0.5g
  • Vitamin C- 24.3mg
  • Potassium- 404mg

Hence, incorporating coconut and its derivatives into your diet can contribute to a well-rounded approach to combating iron-deficiency anemia. 

Coconut allergies and sensitivities:

Even though coconut has increasingly become a part of the diet, coconut allergy is becoming a more common concern. Coconut-derived products can cause coconut dermatitis allergy. So, before incorporating coconut into your diet, consult your physician.

Summary

Anemia is a condition where the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells, leading to fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type that is prevalent in low and middle-income countries. Iron plays the most important role in maintaining a healthy life. Iron deficiency anemia can be prevented by a healthy diet containing iron-rich sources. Coconut as a source of iron along with vitamin C can help in preventing and minimizing iron deficiency anemia. 

FAQ 

How can you reduce the risk of iron deficiency anemia?

To reduce the risk, consume iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods (to aid iron absorption), and avoid excessive tea or coffee consumption with meals.

What is the best source of iron for anemia?

Red meat, organ meats, fortified cereals, and dark leafy greens are some of the best sources of iron for treating anemia.

References

  1. Anemia - What Is Anemia? | NHLBI, NIH. 24 Mar. 2022, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/anemia.
  2. Anemia. https://www.who.int/health-topics/anaemia. Accessed 13 Oct. 2023.
  3. Anemia - Iron-Deficiency Anemia | NHLBI, NIH. 24 Mar. 2022, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/anemia/iron-deficiency-anemia.
  4. FoodData Central. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170169/nutrients. Accessed 18 Oct. 2023.
  5. Iron-Deficiency Anemia. https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/anemia/iron-deficiency. Accessed 20 Oct. 2023.
  6. Cook, James D., and Manju B. Reddy. “Effect of Ascorbic Acid Intake on Nonheme-Iron Absorption from a Complete Diet12.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 73, no. 1, Jan. 2001, pp. 93–98. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/73.1.93.
  7. Office of Dietary Supplements - Iron. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 20 Oct. 2023.
  8. The Health Benefits Of Coconut Water - Klarity Health Library. 18 July 2023, https://my.klarity.health/the-health-benefits-of-coconut-water/.
  9. Kruse, Lacey, et al. “Coconut Allergy.” Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology : Official Publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, vol. 126, no. 5, May 2021, pp. 562-568.e1. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anai.2021.01.027.
  10. Coconut Allergy - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA). https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/coconut-allergy. Accessed 20 Oct. 2023.

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Farwah Alam

BS(Hons)in Microbiology and Molecular genetics, University of the Punjab, Pakistan

Farwah, a research scholar in microbiology and molecular genetics, is a passionate science communicator. She simplifies complex concepts, expressing her love for science and aspiring to contribute meaningfully to health research.

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