Anemia is a condition that occurs when your body’s red blood cell count is less than normal or your red blood cells do not have the required amount of hemoglobin. Approximately 3 million Americans suffer from anemia.
Hemoglobin is an iron-based protein that helps blood cells carry oxygen to different parts of the body. When you are anemic, your blood can’t deliver the proper oxygen supply to your organs and tissues.
According to the World Health Organization, males who have less than 13 grams of hemoglobin per deciliter are anemic. For women, the criterion is less than 12 grams of hemoglobin per deciliter.
Causes and Types of Anemia
Anemia can be caused by the following:
- Loss of blood cells as a result of excessive bleeding
- Pregnancy, during which your body needs more than the normal amount of iron to support your baby’s development
- Low absorption of iron, which can be a result of chronic health conditions such as Crohn’s disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, celiac disease, or surgery for weight loss
- When the body does not produce enough red blood cells as a result of nutrient or iron deficiency (iron deficiency anemia caused by the deficiency of iron; pernicious anemia caused by the poor absorption of vitamin B12 or folic acid from the diet)
- When the body destroys too many red blood cells (hemolytic anemia)
- Inheriting a type of illness that can distort the shape of red blood cells to a crescent sickle shape (sickle-cell anemia)
- Underlying bone marrow diseases such as leukemia or myelofibrosis that affect the bone marrow’s ability to manufacture blood cells (aplastic anemia)
Signs and Symptoms of Anemia
Anemia is a result of fewer red blood cells that contain hemoglobin. A deficiency of this oxygen-carrying protein can disturb the oxygen levels in the body parts, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood. Thus, fatigue and tiredness come as obvious symptoms.
Mild anemia may go unnoticed for years and may come into notice only when it has taken a severe form.
Other symptoms that can indicate anemia include:
- Shortness of breath
- Changes in body temperature; cold feet and hands
- Irregular or uneven heart palpitations
- Cognitive problems such as brain fog
- Hair fall and brittle nails
- Dizziness and loss of stability
Anemia can be diagnosed by a complete blood cell count (CBC) that measures various parameters such as the levels of hemoglobin.
Below-normal levels of red blood cells, hemoglobin, the ratio of the volume of red blood cells to the total volume of blood, and hematocrit indicate anemia. A CBC test is an indication of your overall health.
Treatment for Anemia
The line of treatment followed for anemia depends on the causative factor. Although the condition requires long-term monitoring and treatment, treating the cause can help cure the anemia.
Generally, young people tend to recover more quickly than older people. Older people are likely to have significant effects on their body as a result of underlying medical conditions.
Anemia can be treated using various doctor-approved prescriptions such as:
- Iron supplements in case of iron deficiency anemia. Iron infusions may be given intravenously in severe cases.
- Vitamin B12 infusions.
- A diet strictly adhering to the nutritional needs in order to overcome the causative folic acid, vitamin B12, and iron deficiencies. Avoid foods that can interfere in the absorption of the nutrients. Eat foods that are rich in iron and vitamin C and B12:
- Include lentils and whole grain cereals in your diet.
- Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Avoid sugar, processed grains, bran, and soda.
- Limit tea, coffee, dairy, and dark chocolate.
Natural Remedies for Anemia
You can easily treat and prevent some types of anemia at home with some ingredients lying in your kitchen cabinet.
Let’s dissect the food items that can act as a home remedy to bring your hemoglobin levels at an optimum.
1. Include Beetroot in Your Diet
Beetroot is highly beneficial for those who suffer from anemia due to iron deficiency, which is the most common of all types of anemia. It has a high iron content, along with fiber, calcium, potassium, sulfur, and vitamins.
In addition to providing nutrition, beetroot helps cleanse the body and supply more oxygen throughout the body. This, in turn, helps increase the body’s red blood cell count.
- Blend 1 medium-sized beetroot, 3 carrots, and ½ sweet potato in a juicer. Drink this juice once daily.
- You can also eat beetroot as a cooked vegetable or in a salad. Eat the peel along with the flesh of beetroot to reap its maximum nutritional value.
2. Consume Probiotics
Probiotics can help your gut by introducing intestinal microflora and suppressing the growth of microbes such as Candida that can impair the absorption of many nutrients. Gut-friendly bacteria can help in the absorption of nutrients from digested food.
Proper absorption is necessary to reap the nutritional benefits of the food you eat.
A 2015 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition highlighted the intake of probiotics as a way to increase iron absorption by approximately 50%.
3. Eat Fermented Foods
- Include foods such as sauerkraut, water kefir, kimchi, assorted fermented vegetables, raw cheese, and grass-fed yogurt in your diet.
4. Drink Blackstrap Molasses in Water
It is a good source of iron, B vitamins, and other essential minerals that help increase red blood cell production. A tablespoon of blackstrap molasses supplies almost 15% of your daily iron needs.
- Mix 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses in 1 cup of hot water or milk. Drink this solution once or twice daily. This drink is highly beneficial for pregnant women.
- Another option is to combine 2 teaspoons each of blackstrap molasses and apple cider vinegar in 1 cup of water. Drink this solution once daily.
5. Drink Spinach Juice
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach are some of the best home cures for anemia. Spinach is loaded with iron as well as vitamin B12, folic acid, and energy-boosting nutrients that the body needs to recover from anemia.
A half a cup of spinach provides almost 35% of your daily requirements of iron and 33% of your daily needs for folic acid.
- Drink spinach soup twice daily. To prepare the soup, take 1 cup of blanched spinach and puree it by adding a little water. Heat 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil in a pan; sauté some chopped garlic cloves and onion in it until brown. Add the pureed spinach and a little salt and cook on low heat for 5-10 minutes.
- Mix 2 teaspoons of honey in a glass of fresh spinach juice. Drink this once daily.
Follow either of these remedies for at least 1 month.
6. Drink Pomegranate Juice
Pomegranate is abundant in iron and other minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. It also contains vitamin C, which helps improve the body’s absorption of iron. This results in more red blood cells and an increase in the hemoglobin level.
- Mix 1 cup of pomegranate juice, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon powder, and 2 teaspoons of honey. Drink this mixture daily with your breakfast.
- Alternatively, take 2 teaspoons of dried pomegranate seed powder with 1 glass of warm milk one to two times daily.
- You can also eat a medium-sized pomegranate every morning on an empty stomach.
7. Eat a Concoction of Sesame Seeds
- Soak 2 tablespoons of black sesame seeds in water for 2-3 hours. Strain and make a paste of the soaked seeds. Add 1 tablespoon of honey and mix well. Have this mixture twice daily.
- Soak 1 teaspoon of black sesame seeds in warm water for 2 hours. Grind the mixture into a paste and then strain it to get the emulsion. Mix the emulsion in 1 cup of warm milk, add honey or jaggery, and drink it once daily.
8. Chow Down on Dates
- Soak 2 dates in 1 cup of milk overnight. The next morning, eat the dates and drink the milk on an empty stomach.
- Alternatively, you can eat some dry dates on an empty stomach in the morning, followed by 1 cup of warm milk.
9. Partake Apples
- Eat at least 1 apple daily. If possible, opt for green apples and eat them with their skin.
- You can also mix equal parts of fresh apple juice and beetroot juice and a little honey. Drink this juice mixture twice daily.
10. Consume More Liver
The liver is one of the best food items to treat anemia and has been regarded as such for decades, even by our primal ancestors who consumed it by instinct.
Liver contains scads of nutrition including iron along with many other B vitamins and minerals.
- While cow liver is best, it is an acquired taste and many people are unlikely to enjoy it. Try chicken liver, which is still likely to give you some of the benefits but without the strong taste.
11. Eat Bananas
Hosting a good deal of iron, banana stimulates the production of hemoglobin and many other enzymes that are essential for the formation of red blood cells. Also, it is a good source of magnesium that aids in hemoglobin synthesis.
- Eat 1 ripe banana along with 1 tablespoon of honey twice daily.
- Alternatively, mix mashed ripe banana and 1 tablespoon of Indian gooseberry (amla) juice. Eat this two or three times a day.
12. Add Fenugreek Seeds to Your Dishes
The iron in fenugreek helps to maintain the iron levels in your blood. It also aids in the production of new red blood cells. Both the leaves and seeds of fenugreek can be used in the treatment of anemia.
- Cook 1 cup of rice with 2 teaspoons of fenugreek seeds. Add some salt and eat it once daily for at least 2-3 weeks.
- You can also use fenugreek leaves in your cooking, especially in soups or salads.
Tips to Prevent Anemia
- Take cold baths twice daily to improve blood circulation.
- Cook your food in iron pots to increase the iron content of your food.
- Expose your body to early-morning sunlight for 10 minutes daily.
- Enjoy a warm water bath mixed with Epsom salt a few times a week.
- Exercise regularly and include some strength training to increase muscle mass and fight fatigue.
Risk Factors Associated with Anemia
Although anemia can develop in anyone, the following groups are most likely to get affected by the disease:
- Women, as they experience blood loss during menses and childbirth, which can lead to anemia in some women
- Children less than 2 years of age and infants, as they have difficulty absorbing iron
- Adults over 65, as they usually are on a diet lacking iron
- People on blood-thinning medications including Aspirin or Warfarin
Complications Related to Anemia
An unaddressed case of anemia can lead to severe consequences such as the following:
- Extreme tiredness.
- Anemia caused by folate deficiency in a pregnant woman can cause premature birth of the baby.
- An anemic person’s heart has to work extra hard to pump blood in order to make up for the lack of oxygen. This can cause arrhythmia, enlarged heart, or heart failure.
- Severe cases of sickle cell anemia can be life-threatening and can lead to death in some cases.
Anemia is mostly associated with women but it can affect anyone. It is a condition that is marked by low hemoglobin levels or red blood cell count engendered by diverse reasons.
Bearing in mind that the symptoms of anemia may come into notice only when it has taken a severe form, get a regular complete blood cell count done.
Aside from the standard treatment options and a wholesome diet, consume foods rich in iron, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin B12 to help rev up your hemoglobin levels to normal and restore a healthy red blood cell count. Be consistent in your efforts to prevent a recurrence.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Gabriel Okpagu, MD (Family Physician)
Is it possible to cure anemia permanently?
Anemia is a broad term. There are many forms of anemia such as sickle cell anemia, microcytic anemia (caused by blood loss, iron deficiency, etc.), macrocytic anemia (caused by chronic alcohol abuse, B12 deficiency), and normocytic anemia (caused by chronic diseases such as kidney disease, etc.). The key to treating anemia is first determining the type and cause of the anemia. It is possible to “cure” anemia if there is a modifiable cause identified.
Can anemia be a symptom of any other medical condition?
Yes, very commonly anemia is a sign of another disease process or vitamin deficiency as listed above.
Is it true that people suffering from anemia cannot withstand the cold?
This depends on the type of anemia. Those who suffer from a low hemoglobin level can manifest symptoms such as cold intolerance. This is most common in menstruating women, some may have excessive blood loss which leads to low levels of hemoglobin/ hematocrit.
Which foods should one avoid when suffering from anemia?
As mentioned previously, this is dependent on the type of anemia. The more important question should be which foods should we consume with certain type of anemia. If anemia is caused by losing blood or iron deficiency, the recommendation would be to consume foods with high iron content, such as green legumes, red meat, chicken, etc.
Do caffeinated products affect iron absorption?
There are some studies which define a correlation between caffeine consumption and reduced iron absorption. Caffeine can lead to disruption in the stomach causing gastritis which could create a decrease in absorption of certain vitamins and iron over time.
Are eggs high in iron content?
Per serving which is 1 large egg (50g) there is about 3% iron content.
Can anemia be a genetic condition?
Yes. There are certain forms of anemia which are genetically acquired such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia.
What are best ways to treat different types of anemia?
Diet and healthy lifestyle modifications can help treat and manage certain forms of anemia which involve iron deficiency. Anemia of chronic disease typically requires treatment of the causative disease such as those with chronic kidney disease.
The type of anemia which is normally seen in alcoholics, can be improved with alcohol cessation. Sickle cell anemia is most prevalent in those of African descent and is easily preventable through family planning and genotype testing, which can decrease the chances of passing on the recessive trait.
About Dr. Gabriel Okpagu, MD: Dr. Okpagu is a Board certified family physician and holds a medical degree from American University of Antigua. He completed his residency training from Henry Ford in Detroit Michigan.
Dr. Okpagy also hold an MBA degree in Healthcare Administration. His field of interests include passion for preventative medicine and holistic approaches to treating medical diseases, with special interest in healthcare entrepreneurship, innovative healthcare solutions and healthcare policy.
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