Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common nutritional disease in the world. Anaemia literally means, “without blood”, and is a deficiency of red blood cells, or the presence of abnormal red blood cells. But what causes anaemia? A number of factors can be the cause including reduced production, abnormal production, excess destruction, or blood loss.
- Most young children simply do not get enough iron in their diets
- Heavy menstrual periods are another common cause of iron deficiency anaemia
- Pregnant women also may become anaemic – during pregnancy a woman’s blood volume increases three times, boosting iron needs
Vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency:
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia produces oversized red blood cells, making it harder for the body to squeeze the red blood cells through vessels. Vitamin B12-deficient red blood cells also tend to die off more quickly than normal cells. Vegetarians are at the greatest risk of not getting enough B12 in their diet, since it is mostly found in meat and fish.
Older people are at increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, simply because they are more likely to have conditions that affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12.
The most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia is a lack of a protein called intrinsic factor, which is secreted by the stomach. Without intrinsic factor, vitamin B12 cannot be absorbed, leading to pernicious anaemia. Treatment requires injections of B12, usually once a month, that bypass the stomach by getting the vitamin directly into the bloodstream.
A deficiency of folic acid produces the same oversized red blood cells as a vitamin B12 deficiency. Pregnant women are most at risk for folic acid anaemia because the need increases by two-thirds during pregnancy. Adequate folic acid intake is essential from the start of pregnancy because it protects against spinal defects in the foetus.
Vitamin C deficiency
Vitamin E and B6 deficiency
Infectious diseases such as malaria
Symptoms of mild to moderate anaemia:
- shortness of breath
Symptoms of moderate to severe anaemia:
- rapid heartbeat
- ringing in the ears
- pale skin (especially the palms of the hands), pale or bluish fingernails
- hair loss
- restless leg syndrome
Symptoms specific to severe vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency anaemia:
- swelling of the mouth or tongue
Symptoms specific to pernicious anaemia:
- numbness, tingling
- depression and/or irritability
- memory loss
Establishing the source of the anaemia is crucial so that dietary changes can be made to increase intake of appropriate food groups. For example, green leafy vegetables are a good source of iron. Salmon and mackerel are good sources of Vitamin B-12. Black-eyed peas, beans, and lentils are good sources of folate.
The following foods are a good source of both iron and vitamin B12 and should therefore be increased as a generalised dietary measure, whatever the source of the anaemia: apples, apricots, asparagus, bananas, broccoli, egg yolks, kelp, leafy greens, okra, parsley, peas, plums, prunes, red grapes, raisins, rice bran, squash, turnip greens, whole grains, and sweet potatoes.
Increasing foods that are high in Vitamin C will also improve the absorption of iron in the body. It is a good idea to exclude foods that are high in oxalic acid as it interferes with iron absorption. This includes foods such as almonds, cashews, chocolate, kale, rhubarb, sorrel, spinach, Swiss chard and most nuts and beans.
Other foods that interfere with the absorption of iron include: beer, dairy products, soft drinks especially coke / Pepsi, coffee and tea. Consider having two tablespoonfuls of blackstrap molasses a day, as it is an excellent source of iron and essential B vitamins.
Do not take calcium, vitamin E, zinc, or antacids at the same time as iron supplements, as all of these interfere with iron absorption. Juice Therapy daily is also beneficial, focusing on vegetables that are high in iron and blended with juices high in Vitamin C.
WARNING: Iron is extremely toxic in large quantities. Excessive use of supplements can lead to iron overload, possibly resulting in abdominal pain, nutritional imbalances, digestive problems, or even in death, especially in children. Supplements pose a particular threat to people with the inherited disorder haemochromatosis. Always consult a qualified practitioner taking iron supplements.
Nutritional supplement treatment options
Deficiencies of iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid are the most common nutritional causes of anaemia. Although rare, deficiencies of several other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and copper can also cause anaemia by various mechanisms.
Vitamin C –enhances the absorption of iron ingested.
Copper – In cases of persistent iron-deficiency anaemia where there is also chronic inflammation, it is sometimes necessary to supplement first with copper before the person will respond to iron.
Vitamin E – recommended to reduce free radical damage to red blood cells in patients with thalassaemia.
Botanical treatment options
Açaí contains iron (approximately 1.5 to 5 mg per 100g of fruit) and has long been used traditionally to help treat anaemia.
Chive is rich in vitamin C and iron.
Gentian – a bitter herb used traditionally for the treatment of anaemia. Gentian can be brewed into a tea or taken as a tincture.
Dandelion is also used by traditional herbalists to treat people with anaemia. It is very rich in vitamins and minerals.
Other herbs that are sometimes used in the treatment of anaemia include alfalfa, bilberry, burdock root, cherry, goldenseal, grape skins, hawthorn berry, horsetail, mullein, parsley, nettle, Oregon grape root, pau d’arco, red raspberry, shepherd’s purse, watercress, and yellow dock root.
Caution: Do not take goldenseal or Oregon grape root if you are pregnant. If you have a history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes or glaucoma, see your practitioner before taking any herbs.
Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd. Copyright © Pure Bio Ltd 2022. All rights reserved
Pure Bio Ltd are a leading UK supplier of the highest quality PURE nutritional supplements, based in Horsham, West Sussex. Proud Winners of Southern Enterprise Awards, Best Nationwide Hypoallergenic Nutritional Supplements Distributor 2022.
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