Do you frequently feel tired, get tingly feelings in your hands and feet, have difficulty remembering things, and do people remark to you that you look pale? You may be suffering from anemia, a blood disorder that can occur for a variety of reasons, such as chronic disease, genetic disorder, pregnancy, cancer treatments, certain medications, viral infections, and vitamin deficiencies. A simple blood test can show if an individual is suffering from anemia, and your doctor can assist in determining the cause.
Anemia occurs when the body is not making enough red blood cells. Red blood cells are critical in that they carry nourishing oxygen from our lungs to the other parts of our body. If the number of red blood cells in the body is low, one may experience the aforementioned fatigue and forgetfulness along with irritability, muscle weakness and weight loss. A healthy diet plays a very important role because certain vitamins and minerals are needed to help produce red blood cells.
Folic acid, or folate, is found in leafy greens such as spinach and kale, as well as citrus fruits and fortified items such as breads, cereals and grains. If a person’s diet does not include these foods, they may run the risk of folate-deficiency anemia. Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding also have an increased need for folic acid, as well as individuals that may have difficulty absorbing folate in the intestines, such as those with Crohn’s or celiac disease, or persons who have had gastric bypass surgery; all may require supplementation of this vitamin. Alcohol may also interfere with the absorption of folate, so excessive consumption is discouraged.
When one’s intake is lacking in Vitamin B12, that individual is at risk for developing B12-deficient anemia. Foods that contain B12 include meat, eggs and milk, so vegans can be at increased risk for this type of anemia. It is important to note though that B12 deficiency may have nothing to do specifically with diet, but rather the individual may be lacking a substance cause “intrinsic factor”, which is produced in the stomach and allows for the absorption of B12 in the intestines. People who lack intrinsic factor are required to get shots of B12 in order to avoid what is called “pernicious (deadly) anemia”. Those with Crohn’s or celiac disease, or individuals who have had gastric bypass surgery may also have issues with absorbing B12 in the intestines, so supplementation of this nutrient is required.
Vitamin C helps the body absorb the mineral Iron, so those with a diet deficient in foods high in C such as citrus fruits, peppers, potatoes, broccoli, and strawberries, may become an Iron-deficient anemic. Iron is essential to create Hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells which transports oxygen through the blood. Iron-rich foods include meats, eggs, dairy products and iron-fortified foods such as breads, cereals and grains. Again, vegans may require Iron supplementation, as well as those with Crohn’s or celiac disease, or individuals who have had gastric bypass surgery.