Anemia comes from Greek word, ‘anaimia’, which means ‘lack of blood’ (an – ‘without’ and haima – ‘blood’). It is more of a symptom of another underlying disease, than a disease itself. Read this article if you want to know what is anemia.
Anemia affects more women than men. Its symptoms in women are more pronounced during the time of their period when there is more blood loss, and also in the time of pregnancy. But then again, it can occur in anyone who consumes a diet poor in nutrition. It is a condition where the body is unable to produce enough healthy red blood cells, as they run out of the oxygen-containing, complex protein called hemoglobin, which imparts our blood its red color.
When a person has this condition, there is a marked decrease in Red Blood Cell (RBC) mass, or a condition which doctors would describe as a ‘low blood count’. Red blood cells (erythrocytes) are produced mainly in the bone’s marrow, which is the inner part of the bone. If this sign is left untreated for a long period, it can eventuate more chronic health problems.
Usually, it is caused due to nutritional deficiencies – mainly iron or vitamin deficiencies of vitamin B12, or folic acid (folacin or folate). Deficiencies of vitamins B2, B6, C, A, D, E, and K, zinc, copper, calcium, and protein can also be certain causes.
There are two ways to classify types of anemia:
- Etiology (pathophysiology): erythrocyte and hemoglobin depletion
- Morphology: alterations in the erythrocytes or red blood cells in regard to their size, shape and color
There are three main kinds due to these changes:
1. Macrocytic-normochromic anemia (pernicious and folate deficiency)
It is also known as megaloblastic anemia and occurs when erythrocytes become abnormally shaped, but hemoglobin concentrations remain normal. Deficiencies of vitamin B12 or folate result into defective DNA synthesis, and cause cells to die prematurely with reduced numbers of mature erthrocytes. There is an imbalance in the distribution of RNA and DNA.
Nuclear functions and cell division are hampered. It affects the immune system, and renders the body weak to fight against antigens due to decreased production of lymphocytes (white blood cells), which help with making antibodies. If you’ve had a part of your stomach or small intestine removed, it can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12. Other symptoms include:
- Cheilosis (sores or painful cracks at the corners of mouth
- Glossitis (red, swollen tongue)
- Depression and irritability
- Memory loss and poor concentration
Eating very little or no meat can cause vitamin B12 deficiency, and overcooking vegetables or not eating a lot of vegetables can cause folate deficiency. Foods to be included in order to prevent or cure this disorder include foods rich in vitamin B12 and B6:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Fruit juices
- Whole grains
- Wheat germ
- Brown rice
2. Microcytic-hypochromic anemia (iron-deficiency, sideroblastic, thalassemia)
In this type, abnormally small erythrocytes are produced, and hemoglobin concentrations are decreased. Hypochromia can occur even if the cells are of normal size. Stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding due to angiodysplasia can be major causes. Women who are pregnant or have their monthly period are also likely to suffer from this type. The metabolic demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding deplete iron in the body.
Disorders of iron metabolism, porphyrin and heme synthesis, or globin synthesis are also causes. In order to avoid or treat this, you need to eat foods high in iron content, vitamin C, and copper. Adequate levels of copper in the blood are vital to transport iron throughout the entire body, and vitamin C aids greatly in the absorption of iron. Avoid tea, coffee, and caffeinated drinks, whole grain cereals, too many milk and dairy products, and also antacids, as this makes it hard for your body to absorb iron.
Iron deficiency of this type can have various symptoms, mainly due to lack of oxygen in the tissues and organs. Symptoms include:
- Dyspnoea (shortness of breath)
- Palpitations (irregular heartbeat)
- Sore tongue
- Pica (a desire to eat non-food items, such as paper or clay)
- Feeling itchy
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Altered sense of taste
- Pale complexion
- Dry, brittle, flaking nails
- Hair loss
Iron supplements may have side effects on your body, such as nausea, sickness, abdominal pain, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, and black stools. However, if you eat iron-rich foods, it can prevent or treat this condition. These foods are:
- Dark leafy vegetables, such as watercress, kale, spinach, and chard
- Turnip greens
3. Normocytic-normochromic anemia (aplastic, posthemorrhagic, hemolytic, chronic disease, sickle cell)
In this type, there is destruction or depletion of normal or mature red blood cells or erythrocytes. Their size and hemoglobin content is normal, but they’re just insufficient in number. If not detected for a long time, it can lead to cardiovascular collapse (heart failure due to blood pressure). They can worsen heart disease, lung disease, or cerebrovascular disease. The symptoms include:
- Dark urine
- Enlarged spleen
- Pale skin color
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
Foods that are good for treating this condition are:
- Cooked spinach
- Dry fruits
- Blackstrap molasses
- Seeds of sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin
Anemia can also occur if there aren’t enough hormones present in your body for making red blood cells. Some of the reasons can be:
- Advanced kidney diseases
- Chronic diseases, such as cancer, infection, and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis
In order to make sure your body doesn’t suffer from this deficiency, which can lead to further health problems, it is best to eat healthy, get enough sleep, and not get too low and down with anything. A lot of teenage girls who go on fad diets, tend to develop this condition, as they don’t get the right nutrition that their bodies require. There are many good diets to lose weight without torturing your body too much and being more gentle on yourself.
If this deficiency occurs in children, it can make them unable to focus on activities. Make sure your child doesn’t drink too many soft drinks, and keeps away as much as possible from coffee, black tea, sugar, processed foods, and refined flour. Hopefully, now you understand what is anemia, what can be done to prevent or treat it, and how to increase hemoglobin levels by way of eating the right foods. Take care!
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.