Today, I’d like to talk to you about a common ailment that many of my patients are found to have. It’s one of those conditions whose symptoms can range from mild and fleeting to dramatic and scary. It’s called anemia and it can go undiagnosed for a long time.
Anemia affects many Americans, in fact, it is one of the most common, chronic ailments I see in my over-40 patients today, especially pre-menopausal women, but older men are prone to it as well. Is it any wonder with our burn-the-candle-at-both ends lifestyles and nutrient-poor diets?
Anemia occurs from a reduction in hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein that delivers oxygen to the cells of all your body tissues. Without sufficient oxygen, you not only cannot breathe very well but your muscles, and joints also lose their strength. Chronic stress and lack of iron in your diet can create anemia as can certain blood or intestinal conditions. Mostly, though, anemia comes about from a diet lacking in crucial minerals and vitamins.
What Are The Symptoms of Anemia?
The symptoms of anemia often go unnoticed, or they can be as dramatic as the inability to catch your breath after light exercise and/or fainting. A general blood test done by your doctor can detect anemia. Here are some of the usual symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale, sallow skin
- Heart palpitations
- Dizziness, vertigo
- Seeing spots
How To Naturally Remedy Anemia
As I mentioned earlier, anemia is most commonly caused by a poor diet. If your diet lacks Vitamin C, you will not absorb iron from your food very well. If your diet lacks iron and Vitamin B12 containing foods (beef, pork) such as can occur with vegetarians, you’re at high risk for developing anemia. However, these dietary deficiencies can be remedied fairly easily.
If your doctor diagnoses anemia (through a special blood test called a CBC which measures the level of hemoglobin in your blood), it’s cause needs to be determined before treating it.
Anemia may also be caused by certain disease conditions that destroy red blood cells like leukemia, a type of blood cancer. In addition, certain digestive tract conditions, like ulcers, abnormalities of the veins, diverticulosis can cause chronic microscopic to obvious bleeding through the bowel. In addition, uterine/ovarian problems in women can cause anemia by ongoing blood loss through abnormal menstruation. All of these conditions can cause blood loss anemia.
Pregnant women are also at high risk for anemia as they can be deficient in iron and folic acid, which can cause birth defects such as spina bifida and neural tube defects. These underlying conditions must be treated first before the anemia can be resolved.
Once the cause of anemia has been determined, and any other underlying medical conditions attended to, your doctor may advise you to take iron supplements for a while to build your blood back up. In addition, eating a nutritionally optimum diet will help ensure that you don’t develop anemia again. The following is a list of the best vitamins/food sources that fight anemia:
Vitamin C: As noted above, without adequate vitamin C, your body will not absorb iron from your food properly. Good sources of C are citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes), tomatoes, vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli.
Vitamin B12: Helps build red blood cells. Best sources include red meat like beef, eggs, tuna, and cheese.
Folic Acid: Works together with B12 to build red blood cells. Leafy green vegetables like spinach, bok choy, leaf lettuce, orange juice, and whole grains.
Iron: If you include the foods above in your diet, you should also be getting enough iron. But your doctor may want to supplement it in a pill form for a while. Your vitamin mineral supplement should include about 18 mcg of iron.
Blackstrap molasses: Long given to pregnant women to prevent anemia, others can also take 1 tablespoon a day, straight, or made into a tea by adding a cup of hot water. Contains iron, B vitamins and other minerals. It also acts as a mild laxative.
My patients are often surprised when I tell them that anemia can be the cause of their chronic tiredness and other confusing and uncomfortable symptoms, like those listed above. They thought they were eating healthy, but on closer look, when they keep a food diary of their typical daily diet, it becomes obvious that they really aren’t eating enough of good food sources that will prevent anemia.
Another factor that may contribute to poor nutrition is that many people are watching their weight and have cut down, or out, some of the very foods that are necessary for building red cells. If this sounds like you, take a good look at your diet and see if you really are eating enough of the right foods to fight anemia. In addition, see your doctor who can do a quick blood test to determine if you are anemic and make sure you don’t have any other underlying conditions causing it.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.