Anemia and Diet

Anemia is a condition that is caused by a decreased amount of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the body. The function of hemoglobin is to transport oxygen to the tissues and organs of the body, and any condition leading to a decreased amount of hemoglobin will result in reduced oxygen transport to and decreased functioning of, the organs.

Signs and symptoms of anemia include pale skin, fatigue, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath.

One of the main causes of anemia is a deficiency in various vitamins, minerals, and elements that are used to produce red blood cells and hemoglobin. These elements and vitamins include iron, folate, and vitamin B12. Deficiencies in these products can be caused by blood loss, decreased intake through the diet, gastrointestinal pathologies which can lead to decreased absorption of these products, and inflammatory conditions that consume these products at a rate faster than they can be absorbed and stored. Pregnancy is also a very important cause of deficiencies of these products because they are used by the growing fetus in order to develop adequately.

Iron deficiency anemia

Iron is a very important element that is required for the development of healthy and functional hemoglobin proteins. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common cause of nutritional deficiency anemias and is caused by low levels of iron in the body.

Causes of an iron deficiency may include chronic blood loss from heavy menstruation and stomach ulcers decreased intake of dietary iron, decreased absorption of iron due to conditions such as celiac disease, or when a part of the small intestine has been removed, and chronic infections such as HIV.

If the problem is caused by decreased intake of iron through the diet, then supplementing with iron-containing pills may help. These need to be prescribed by a registered medical practitioner, though. Foods rich in iron would also help to manage the problem and include red meats, poultry, pork, seafood, beans, peas, and dried fruit such as apricots and raisins.

If the iron deficiency is caused by persistent bleeding, then the cause of the bleed would need to be managed first. The replacement of the lost iron would need to be done thereafter.

In cases where gastrointestinal conditions prevent the absorption of iron, intravenous forms of this element can be administered to the affected individual.

Folate deficiency anemia

Folate, or folic acid, is one of the B vitamins that is required to produce adequately functioning red blood cells in the bloodstream. Normally, humans are able to receive enough folate through their diets, but there are conditions and scenarios that may result in decreased levels of this vitamin in the body.

Factors that can cause a folate deficiency include a decreased intake of folate containing foods such as green, leafy vegetables and citrus fruits, consuming large amounts of alcohol, having conditions such as sickle cell or kidney disease, and using medications such as those needed to manage epilepsy, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.

A folate deficiency can be managed with oral folic acid supplementation, and by increasing the intake of foods rich in the vitamin.

A folate deficiency during pregnancy may result in neural tube defects of the fetus such as spina bifida since the vitamin is essential in the development of the baby’s brain and spine. It’s therefore very important to make sure that folate levels in pregnant women are normal, and if they’re not then adequate supplementation must be started immediately.

Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia

Vitamin B12 is another vitamin needed for the production of properly functioning red blood cells in the body. A deficiency in this vitamin can result in not only in the previously mentioned signs and symptoms of anemia, but it can lead to nerve cell damage that can cause a decreased sensation, tingling, and pins-and-needles in the fingers and toes, poor balance, problems with memory recall, and depression.

The following problems can result in a vitamin B12 deficiency:

  • Decreased absorption of the vitamin by the stomach due to damage to the parietal cells lining the organ (called pernicious anemia).
  • Removal of or damage to the ileum (last part of the small intestine) where vitamin B12 is absorbed.
  • Conditions affecting the gastrointestinal tract such as Crohn’s colitis, celiac disease, or parasitic or bacterial infections of the gut.
  • Rarely, the condition can occur due to the decreased intake of foods such as eggs, milk, red meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Increased consumption of alcohol.
  • The use of certain over-the-counter and prescription medications.

A vitamin B12 deficiency can be managed by oral, intramuscular or intravenous supplementation of the vitamin depending on the cause of the problem. This supplementation may need to occur lifelong, especially if the vitamin B12 deficiency is caused by damage to the gastrointestinal tract.

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