Anemia, one of the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies worldwide, affects an estimated 30 percent of the world’s population (around 2 billion people) and more than 3 million Americans.
Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is a red protein found in the red blood cells (each RBC contains over 600 million hemoglobin molecules) that carries oxygen from the lungs to body tissues. When the tissues do not receive an adequate quantity of oxygen, many functions and organs are affected.
- dizziness, headache, or lightheadedness;
- a paleness of skin;
- frequent infections;
- extreme fatigue;
- irregular heartbeat;
- shortness of breath;
- cold feet and hands.
Causes of iron deficiency anemia include:
Poor diet – a diet high in processed foods and low in essential nutrients affects how the body absorbs iron.
Pregnancy – pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing anemia due to the excess amount of blood that the body produces to help provide important minerals, vitamins and other nutrients for the baby. This condition increases the risk of a low birth weight baby or a preterm delivery.
Malabsorption or the inability to absorb iron – even if you get enough iron in your diet, Crohn disease, taking antacids that contain calcium, Celiac disease (a digestive condition where an individual has an adverse reaction to gluten), gastric bypass surgery, the use of aspirin or antibiotics, may limit the amount of iron your body can absorb.
Kidney disease – your kidneys produce a hormone called EPO – erythropoietin. This hormone tells your body to make red blood cells. Therefore, when you have kidney disease, EPO production is low, which can make red blood cell levels to drop.
Monthly periods – Heavy or prolonged menstrual periods, or menorrhagia, may eventually lead to this problem.
Blood donation – donating a large amount of blood, in already vulnerable population, may lead to IDA, with recurrent donation increasing the risk.
Destruction of red blood cells – red blood cells live for about 120 days in the bloodstream and then die. A situation in which the red blood cells are removed from the bloodstream or destroyed before their normal lifespan is over may lead to IDA.
Chronic alcohol consumption – may lead to IDA because alcohol affects bone marrow and suppresses the normal production of red blood cells.
A person who suffers from anemia has lost the joy to live and is having a hard time accepting to continue life. Also, anemia is the result of one’s refusal to use his or her talents for the benefit of others.
Eating healthy foods can help you avoid IDA. Plants containing high levels of iron to include in your diet: green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, pak choi, watercress, dandelion greens, kale), cereals (brown rice, corn), nuts and seeds (hazelnuts, macadamia, squash, pine, pistachio, pecans, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts), dried fruit (raisins, apricots, prunes, currants, figs), berries (elderberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries), beans and pulses (baked beans, soybeans, peas, lentils, lima beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, black-eyed beans).
Your body needs vitamin B12 to make red blood cells. However, in order to provide vitamin B12 to your cells, your body must absorb enough vitamin B12 with the help of a special protein, called intrinsic factor. This protein is released by cells in the stomach. According to a study conducted at Tufts University, 40% of individuals between the ages of 26 and 83 have plasma vitamin B12 levels in the low normal range.
If you are vegan, it is recommended a vitamin B12 supplement of 10 micrograms daily.
Consuming vitamin C with iron-rich foods will help to absorb the iron more easily. Plants high in vitamins C include fruits (oranges, kiwi, grapefruits, Amalaki, strawberries, guavas, papayas, melons, pineapples, and mangoes), vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens, green and red bell peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower).
Vitamin B9 or folate
Vitamin B9 is necessary for your body to make new red blood cells. More importantly, your body does not store much vitamin B9, hence, you need a regular fresh supply to keep healthy. In addition, it is important not to overcook foods containing folate.
Plants high in vitamin B9 include: asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, cauliflower, spinach, kale, spring beans, green beans, okra, lettuce, parsnips, papaya, pomegranate, guava, banana, kiwi, peas, bean sprouts, pinto beans, navy beans, black-eyed beans, mung beans, lentils, or chickpeas.