Anemia Is More Than Just Iron DeficiencyNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Fatigue and lack of energy are two very common complaints you may have after you engage in physical activity or have not had enough sleep. However, persistent complaints may be attributed to anemia - a very common blood disease that affects over 3 million Americans.
“Anemia occurs when you do not have enough red blood cells or when your red blood cells do not function properly,” reports the American Society of Hematology. “Red blood cells carry hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that attaches to oxygen in the lungs and carries it to tissues throughout the body.”
To put your need for oxygen in perspective, you can live for weeks without food, days without water but only a few minutes without oxygen.
When your body lacks adequate oxygen, you may have symptoms like rapid heartbeat, dizziness, headaches, weakness and shortness of breath.
There are many different types of anemia, but so many people associate anemia with iron deficiency. And it is true that iron-deficiency anemia may occur when you do not have enough iron in your diet or if you have a condition that makes it hard to absorb iron. However, a type of anemia that is generally not discussed as much is “vitamin-deficiency anemia.”
Vitamin-deficiency anemia may result from low levels of vitamin B12 or B9 (also known as folate or folic acid) in your body. It is usually due to poor dietary intake. When you have low intake of these vitamins, your red blood cells may become too large.
How can you measure the size of your red blood cells?
Your red blood cells are generally measured as part of a Complete Blood Count (CBC) which is a basic blood test most doctors use to screen for a variety of conditions, including anemia.
The red cell distribution width (RDW) blood test measures the amount of red blood cell variation in volume and size. Generally, your red blood cells will be a standard size of 6-8 micrometers in diameter. If they are larger, your RDW value will be larger and you may have vitamin-deficiency anemia.
Who is at risk for vitamin deficiency anemia?
- Excessive alcohol consumers. Many people who drink a lot of alcohol may have large red blood cells. Alcohol may deplete the body of B vitamins, which may lead to larger red blood cells. In general, excessive alcohol consumption depletes the body of essential nutrients. And did you know that the process of metabolizing alcohol requires nutrients?
- Medication takers. Certain medications, like those used to control seizures, may deplete the body of vitamins and other nutrients. Long time use of proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are sometimes used to treat acid reflux and heartburn, may also cause your body to have difficulty absorbing B12.
- Unhealthy Eaters. Eating healthy is not just about avoiding junk food. It is also about making sure that your body gets adequate amounts of all the six essential nutrients: water, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. So one of the ways you can ensure your body is getting nutritionally what it needs is to eat nutrient-dense foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats (like nuts and avocados).
How can you be proactive about preventing vitamin-deficiency anemia?
Test, don’t guess. Sometimes even if you limit your alcohol consumption and eat nutrient-rich foods, you still may have nutritional imbalances. This may be due to older age, existing health conditions or medication use. This is why it is important to get a comprehensive nutrient test at least once a year. If you discover you have an imbalance, you can work with a competent healthcare professional to tweak your diet, take good quality supplements or use liposomal technology where appropriate.
You may also want to consider being screened specifically for vitamin B12 deficiency. The following categories of people should consider screening:
- Vegans or strict vegetarians (B12 is found mostly in animal foods).
- People who have had gastric or small intestine resections, like gastric bypass surgery.
- People who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease.
- Those who have used Metformin (an anti-diabetic medication) for at least four months.
- Those who have used proton pump inhibitors or histamine H2 blockers (which reduce acid in the stomach and help treat heartburn) for more than 12 months.
- Adults older than 75 years.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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