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Many of us are aware that we need sufficient levels of iron in the body to keep us healthy, but often forget that vitamin B12 is just as important. Iron deficiency and vitamin B12 deficiency are some of the most common nutritional deficiencies affecting people in the UK and can cause anaemia, but because symptoms can often be confused or passed off as other things, many are unaware of their low levels.
Red blood cells contain haemoglobin an iron-rich protein that gives the blood its red colour and carries oxygen around the body. Anaemia is a condition that arises when there are a low number of red blood cells or if there isn’t enough haemoglobin within the red blood cells. There are 3 main causes of anaemia: blood loss, a lack of red cell production and high rates of red blood cell destruction.
Although there are many different types of anaemia and many different conditions that can cause anaemia, some types can be prevented and corrected through eating a well-balanced diet.
Iron is an element that we require for a number of different bodily processes such as creating new red blood cells, carrying oxygen around our body and strengthening our immune system. Most of the iron in the body is found in haemoglobin. We obtain the iron that we need from our food and there are two different forms of dietary iron: heme iron and nonheme iron. Heme iron is found in meats and fish whilst non-heme iron can be found in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Low levels of iron can lead to a decrease in the amount of oxygen carried around the body, eventually causing iron deficiency anaemia. Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anaemia and although the condition may be common, many people don’t know they have iron deficiency anaemia as it is possible to experience the symptoms without knowing the cause. Symptoms can include fatigue, heart palpitations, dizziness and headaches. Although not life-threatening, iron deficiency anaemia is thought to increase the risk of heart disease as the heart needs to pump more blood around the body to compensate for low oxygen levels. Increasing dietary intake of iron-rich foods including leafy greens and pairing vitamin C-rich foods with iron to convert the non-heme iron into heme iron which the body finds easier to absorb helps improve low iron levels.
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is important for tissue and cell repair, energy and red blood cell production and the functioning of nerves and DNA. Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause red blood cells to be large and misshapen which affects their oxygen-carrying capacity, causing anaemia and associated symptoms. Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal proteins such as meat, fish, milk and eggs, as well as some fortified cereals.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia occurs when a lack of vitamin B12 causes the production of abnormally large red blood cells that can't function properly. Those who are vegetarian or vegan are at a greater risk of having a vitamin B12 deficiency as they lack animal products (the main source of B12) in their diet.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of anaemia or worried that perhaps your diet is not providing you with enough iron or vitamin B12 it’s time to get Medichecked. Our comprehensive Well Man and Well Woman UltraVit health screens include tests for both iron and vitamin B12 along with a number of other important markers.
Both iron and B12 deficiency anaemia can be reversed through lifestyle changes so order your test today to take control of your health.