Friday, April 30, 2010

Why is Anemia More Common in Some Ethnicities?

There are many, many types of anemia with iron deficiency anemia the most common. And, anemia isn't really one of those nutrient deficiencies that is tied to certain ethnicities (the way vitamin D is for instance; where ethnicities with darker skin have a greater risk of deficiency). But, a study published a few years ago made me re-think the fact that some ethnicities may have an increased risk.

Among women, there's been a decline in the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia and folate deficiency related anemia. However, there's a tremendous difference by ethnicity: 3.3% for whites, 24.4% for blacks and 8.7% for Mexican Americans. Unfortunately, I'm left wondering and trying to figure out what is going on. According to this study, patient demographics, lab testing methods and known causes of anemia can't account for the differences. So, what's left? Is the data wrong? Have studies misinterpreted the prevalence data or have other factors contributed to this data? One potential factor mentioned is lack of adherence. For all the clinicians out there, we know this all too well. You can give someone a prescription or supplement and instructions, but, this doesn't mean they will indeed follow-through and take it as prescribed. Follow-up and monitoring are absolutely crucial with any deficiency.

Right now we have more questions than answers but hopefully future research will tell us why some populations have a higher incidence of anemia. Right now though, public health interventions can at the very least, target these groups to make them aware of iron deficiency anemia and increase testing in those who are displaying signs and symptoms of deficiency.

Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88(6): 1457-1458.

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