Who We Are
When our President and co-founder, Keerthi Padmanabhan, discovered that she had iron-deficiency anemia, a condition where a person's iron levels are low, she was able to access an iron-rich diet to overcome the disease. However, as she researched the condition, it became increasingly clear that, without proper awareness, a community to morally and financially support nutrient-dense diets, and the right food policies, anemia can be extremely difficult to beat. With over 1/4 of the world population having anemia, it is evident that in order to fight this disease, community-based solutions are needed - and that is why BEAT was created.
Since the founding of BEAT Nonprofit, or Bravely Ending Anemia Together, in June of 2020, we have dedicated ourselves to combatting iron-deficiency anemia on a grassroots level. Whether it is through raising awareness about the disease, fundraising, advocacy, partnering with food chains, or providing iron-rich supplements and foods to communities most affected by anemia, including low-income individuals, pregnant women, and those in Asian countries, we hope to inspire healthy food habits, bring communities together, and provide a better future for people afflicted with anemia.
Please read below to learn more about anemia and our work to fight this critical disease. With your help, we can BEAT anemia, one step at a time.
What is Anemia?
Anemia: The Basics
The kind of anemia that BEAT works to combat, iron-deficiency anemia, is a condition in which a person's iron levels are low. Iron is used by the body to make hemoglobin, a protein that is used to make red blood cells (RBCs) and carry oxygen to cells throughout the body for important life processes like cellular respiration. With low iron levels that characterize anemia, a person's ability to make hemoglobin and RBCs is severely decreased, which can have serious implications on their oxygen levels.
A Side by Side Comparison
Hover to see red blood cells with high levels of iron. Notice that they are are a rich red color, mainly circular, and contain color throughout their concave structure.
Hover to see anemia in red blood cells with low levels of iron. Notice that they are are a pale pink, ovular instead of circular, and contain white through much of their concave structure.
Broadly, iron-deficiency anemia is caused when the body does not have enough iron to produce a sufficient supply of RBCs to support healthy functioning. More specifically, this can result from the loss of blood, which indirectly causes the loss of iron, a lack of iron in one's diet, or the inability to absorb iron.
Physiologically, the loss of blood cells occur most commonly from heavy menstrual bleeding and pregnancy (which diverts a large amount of blood and iron to a growing fetus) - this, in fact, is why young women are the most susceptible to developing anemia. Loss of RBCs can also occur from chronic conditions like cancer, ulcers, kidney disease (where the hormone erythropoietin, needed to stimulate bone marrow cells to produce RBCs, is stunted), and diabetes, the excessive use of over-the-counter pain medication like aspirin, which can inflame the lining of the stomach and cause blood loss, or frequently donating blood.
Low iron levels in one's body is mainly caused by a diet poor in iron, which is more common is vegetarianism or veganism and diets lacking leafy vegetables, beans, and lentils - because South Asians are more likely to be vegetarian or vegan and low-income populations have less access to fruits and vegetables, which can be more costly, these groups tend to be at a greater risk for anemia. Although heme iron, found in animals, is more efficiently absorbed than non-heme iron, found in plants, strong vegetarian or vegan diets can compensate for this difference.
Regardless of iron intake, if iron cannot be absorbed, it cannot be used to make hemoglobin for RBCs. Low absorption of iron occurs from a lack of Vitamin C (mainly found in citrus), the consumption of polyphenols (tea and coffee) and calcium (milk and dairy) near meals and washing vegetables after cutting them (which results in nutrients like iron flowing out with the water).
The Profile of Anemia
Due to lower oxygen levels in the body, anemia's symptoms present themselves across organ systems, as oxygen is required for a diverse set of functions in the human body. Some symptoms include, but are not limited to: chest pain, shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, weakness, extreme tiredness, pale skin, tongue inflammation or soreness, cold extremities (hands and feet), brittle nails, headaches with dizziness and lightheadedness being common markers, low appetite (especially in infants and children), and unusual cravings, such as for ice, starch, or mud. Severer and untreated forms of anemia can lead to cardiovascular problems and even death.
With a variety of biological and socioeconomic reasons, certain groups are more susceptible to being anemic. While being a part of one of the following groups does not indicate anemia, it can make one more likely to develop it. For example, women lose 4-100 mg of iron per period and 500 mg of iron per pregnancy, explaining why 20% of women in the United States, mainly those of childbearing age, have anemia in contrast to 2% of men. Infants, although born with stores of iron, and young children require a constant supply to meet growth needs, increasing their likelihood of becoming anemic. Due to poorer nutrition, 10% of those over 65 have anemia, with its prevalence increasing with age - 20% of those over 85 are anemic. Low-income and rural populations, especially in developing countries in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, often have lower access to iron-rich foods. For example, coupled with an increase in vegetarianism and veganism (which also reduces iron content if not compensated with more non-heme foods), it is estimated that 70% of premenopausal women in India are anemic.
Diagnosis & Treatment
A diagnosis of anemia usually involves an afflicted individual observing several of the symptoms listed above and possibly making connections to certain risk groups. However, only a board-certified doctor can diagnose anemia. The process of diagnosis usually involves studying a person's symptoms, risk groups, diet, and other conditions and running a complete blood count (CBC) test. An individual suspected of having anemia may be referred to a phlebotomist, who will collect that individual's blood and send it to a nearby lab to count a variety of components in the blood, with hemoglobin and hematocrit being of particular interest to a doctor. With results of less than 14-17 gm/dL of hemoglobin for men and 12-15 gm/dL of hemoglobin for women, a primary care physician may diagnose a person with iron-deficiency anemia.
Anemia, drawing from a variety of causes, usually involves a comprehensive treatment of implementing an iron-rich diet, supplements, better cooking habits, and monitoring of symptoms.
First, to increase iron intake to the daily levels of 11.5–13.7 mg/day in children 2–11 years old, 15.1 mg/day in teenagers teens 12–19 years old, 16.3–18.2 mg/day in males, and 12.6–13.5 mg/day in females older than 19, an iron-rich diet is often the first course of action. The most well-known iron dense foods are legumes (such as chickpeas, beans, lentils, soybeans, and peas), pumpkin seeds, quinoa, broccoli, tofu, dark chocolate, shellfish, liver, fish, and red meat. Many household items, like flour, cereal, and spices, can be bought as iron-fortified to increase iron intake.
A practitioner may also recommend taking an iron supplement daily - with several brands on the market, some options that are known to be more effective include those that have iron glycinate, which is absorbed 2-4 times better than the typical iron sulfate and fumarate and is gentler on the gastrointestinal system, contain less iron per pill (and as a result require more serving per day), which decreases side effects of constipation, and do not have calcium, which inhibits iron absorption.
Better food preparation habits like cooking foods in cast iron skillets, soaking beans and lentils in water the night before using them, and washing vegetables before cutting them can prevent iron from being lost in the cooking process, leaving more for the body to use.
Recently, several apps have been created to help diagnose (though a guarantee is not certain) and monitor symptoms of anemia. Many function by asking a user to take photos of their fingernail and then implementing algorithms to determine the iron and oxygen levels in the body (as mentioned before, pale and brittle nails are a symptoms of anemia, making fingernails a viable biomarker of iron levels).
Beyond increased iron intake, a practitioner may target certain body processes decreasing iron absorption/increasing iron loss, like chronic illnesses. Depending on the patient, they may recommend mental wellness, exercise, and better sleep to help blood circulate iron throughout the body more efficiently. While anemia can only be diagnosed with a doctor, implementing an iron-rich diet, better cooking habits, and well-being practices can help decrease a person's likelihood of developing anemia in the future and promote a healthier, happier life.
Out of all the diseases in the world, why does BEAT specifically target anemia? When it became clear that there were almost no organizations combatting iron-deficiency anemia, BEAT formed to be one of the first.
Because anemia is a chronic condition, healthcare systems - most of which developed around treating immediate conditions - have not been able to comprehensively tackle anemia. That's why at BEAT, we believe that a community-based approach is necessary to create a landscape where anemia can be prevented in the first place. As a result, our vision entails firstly, fostering an informed and aware public that can be empowered to recognize anemia in themselves and secondly, take charge of their own health and consume the very iron-rich diet needed to put a stop to anemia. And of course, we thirdly use the financial contributions of viewers like you to make our work possible and sustainable.
Our Three-Pronged Approach
Want to learn more about the specific work we've done to further each prong of our approach? Start here!