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Anemia is the single most common nutritional disorder in the world. A new study finds that iron deficiency anemia increases the risk of stroke. Time to get your iron levels checked?

Iron deficiency anemia is the single most common nutritional disorder across the world. Two billion people are anemic, which means more than 30 percent of the Earth's population.

You may know that anemia makes a person feel weak and tired, but the disorder also comes with far more serious consequences. Anemia leads to problems with both physical and cognitive development, poor pregnancy outcomes, and decreased productivity in adults. It is also, according to a brand new study, linked to stroke. 

Anemia Increases The Risk Of Stroke

Other recent research had already suggested that iron deficiency anemia could be connected to ischemic stroke, so the study team — which included Dr Claire Shovlin from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London — decided to engage in further investigation. 

They analyzed the iron levels of 497 patients suffering from a rare disease that can cause enlarged blood vessels in the lungs. Small blood clots are usually filtered out by the blood vessels so they don't even get to the arteries, but this does not happen in people with hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT). HHT patients can end up with blood clots in the brain, causing stroke.

Sticky Platelets Clot More Easily 

Merely having moderately low iron levels doubled the risk of stroke in HHT patients, the research team found. Why? Low iron levels were found to make platelets more "sticky", leading to a much higher risk of blood clots!

Dr Shovlin says: "Since platelets in the blood stick together more if you are short of iron, we think this may explain why being short of iron can lead to strokes, though much more research will be needed to prove this link."

The next step is rather obvious — we need to find out of increasing iron levels actually reduces the risk of stroke, and specifically if boosting iron levels would decrease the stickiness of an individual patient's platelets.

Are You At Risk?

"There are many additional steps from a clot blocking a blood vessel to the final stroke developing, so it is still unclear just how important sticky platelets are to the overall process," Dr Shovlin pointed out. 

So, do these findings apply only to HHT patients? If "sticky blood" is repsonsible for the increased risk, this is definitely not the case. The risk could apply to anyone who suffers from iron deficiency anemia or disorders that cause anemia, including celiac and Crohn's disease. 

While we're waiting for further studies on the topic, you might just want to get your iron levels checked out. Leafy greens, apricots, broccoli, meat and fish are all foods that will boost your iron levels, but you may look into taking a nutritional supplement in addition to increasing the iron in your diet if you are concerned. 

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