Anemia is a disorder of the blood in which there is a decrease in the number of red blood cells or in the quantity of hemoglobin (the iron-containing portion of red blood cells). This decrease in red blood cells reduces the oxygen carrying power of the blood, resulting in insufficient oxygen being delivered to the body’s tissues. This inadequate supply of oxygen throughout the body often results in one developing extreme fatigue and a shortness of breath-the classical symptoms of anemia. Common causes of anemia include blood loss, dietary deficiencies, poor iron absorption, increased needs for iron (such as in young children, adolescents, women of childbearing age, pregnant women, the elderly), and chronic diseases.
Some of the most common types of anemia include:
- Sickle-Cell Anemia and Thalassemia - Inherited abnormalities of hemoglobin production
- Megaloblastic (Pernicious) Anemia - A disorder caused by malabsorption of vitamin B12 from the digestive tract
- Congenital Aplastic Anemia - Failure of bone marrow to produce red blood cells.
It is essential that the type of anemia be identified through a complete diagnostic workup by a qualified health care professional, in order to render appropriate treatment.
Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common cause of anemia. This type of anemia is often due to chronic blood loss resulting from heavy menstrual bleeding, pregnancy, peptic ulcers, bleeding lesions of the gastrointestinal tract, reflux esophagitis, or gastric or colorectal cancer.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (1, 2):
- Approximately 3.4 million Americans suffer from anemia, making it the most common blood disorder in the United States.
- 12% of all premenopausal women in the United States have anemia.
- 7% of children (ages 1-2 years) have anemia
Along with the symptoms of an underlying disorder, the general symptoms of most anemia includes:
- Fatigue and faintness
- Shortness of breath on mild exertion
- Increased heart rate (palpitations)
- Loss of skin tone or color
Iron-deficiency anemia symptoms may additionally include:
- Concave, spoon-shaped nails
- Painful cracks in the skin at the side of the mouth
- A smooth, reddened tongue
If anemia is severe and long-term:
- Chronic heart failure may result
The type of anemia must be identified through a complete diagnostic workup (including a comprehensive laboratory analysis of the blood) by a qualified health care professional, in order to render appropriate treatment. Once the type of anemia is determined, the underlying causes are then treated. Routine blood tests are also performed to determine when the blood count returns to normal.
For iron-deficiency anemia, treatment usually consists of iron supplementation. The preferred iron preparation is iron ferrous salts, such as ferrous succinate or fumarate. Less commonly, treatment may involve iron injections for several months to replace iron reserves. Severe cases of anemia may require blood transfusion. Foods rich in iron should be eaten including liver, green leafy vegetables, blackstrap molasses, dried beans, lean meat, organ meats, dried fruits, including dried apricots, almonds, and shellfish. Foods that prevent iron absorption should be avoided. These include; wheat bran, egg yolks, coffee, and tea. Overuse of calcium supplements and antacids can also decrease iron absorption and should be restricted.
Hydrolyzed (Liquified) Liver Extract
Liver extract is an effective natural treatment for all types of anemia (3). Liver contains many elements that have been shown to stimulate normal red blood cell production. Liver extracts include all the benefits of liver but not the fats, cholesterol, and fat-soluble vitamins.
Vitamin C supplementation has been shown to assist the body in absorbing dietary iron, thereby increasing body iron stores (4). A deficiency in vitamin C can result in the development of several different types of anemia.
Many anemia patients do not have enough hydrochloric acid secretion in their stomachs (3). Hydrochloric acid deficiency can impede digestion and nutrient absorption, including iron. Hydrochloric acid deficiency is common among the elderly and may be an appropriate supplementation with meals.
Trace Minerals (Copper, Zinc, Selenium)
Trace minerals such as copper, zinc and selenium improve the oxygen transport abilities of red blood cells and may reduce the effect of anemia on normal blood cell function (5). Studies show that copper deficiency can prevent the release of iron from storage sites, an action which is known to contribute to the onset of iron-deficiency anemia (6). Supplementation with too much zinc can induce copper deficiency (7).
Folic Acid and Vitamin B12
Low levels of folic acid and vitamin B12 can induce anemia (8-10). Folic acid deficiency is effectively treated with folic acid and vitamin B12 oral supplementation. Vitamin B12 deficiency is often treated with intramuscular injections, although oral and sublingual preparations are also available.
Studies show that hemodialysis patients, suffering from hypochromic, microcytic anemia, and patients with sickle cell anemia may be helped with Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) supplementation (11, 12).
1. CDC, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), “Fast Stats: Anemia”. http://www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info/nmdrugprofiles/herbaldrugs/101840.shtml
2. National Institutes of Health (NIH), MedlinePlus, “Anemia”. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/cgi/medlineplus/leavemedplus.pl?theURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Emayoclinic%2Ecom%2Finvoke%2Ecfm%3Fid%3DDS00321
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10. Brinch, L. et al. Folic acid deficiency can cause severe anemia and pancytopenia. Tidsskr. Nor. Laegeforen. 1990 May 30; 110(14): 1830-1.
11. Toriyama T, et al. Effects of high-dose vitamin B6 therapy on microcytic and hypochromic anemia in hemodialysis patients. Nippon Jinzo Gakkai Shi. Aug1993;35(8):975-80.
12. Natta CL, Reynolds RD. Apparent vitamin B6 deficiency in sickle cell anemia. Am J Clin Nutr. Aug1984;40(2):235-9.
13. Life Extension eds., Disease Prevention and Treatment, 4th ed. Florida: Life Extension Media, 2003.
14. Stoppard M. Family Health Guide, New York: DK Publishing, 2002.
15. Balch JF, and Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd ed. New York: Penguin Putnam Avery, 2000.