Anemia Explained

A is for … ANEMIAStarting at the beginning of the alphabet, at the beginning of a new year seems appropriate. Anemia is the lack of enough healthy red blood cells (RBC) to carry enough oxygen (O2) to your entire body. When your tissues don’t have the …

Anemia is the lack of enough healthy red blood cells (RBC) to carry enough oxygen (O2) to your entire body. When your tissues don’t have the oxygen needed to perform properly.

Symptoms can include fatigue (feeling tired and weak), pale or yellow skin, irregular heart beat, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, headaches, and cold hands/feet.

Types of Anemia

  • Aplastic Anemia – The body stops producing enough red blood cells (RBC)

  • Sickle Cell Anemia – Inherited disorder. RBC is shaped like a crescent moon, which does not allow oxygen to bind fully. Often painful, can damage the spleen, and can cause edema.

  • Thalassemia – high amount of RBC present, but low oxygen per cell. The cell is shaped normally (unlike sickle cell)

  • Vitamin Deficiency Anemia – Linked to decreased Vitamin C, vitamin B-12, and/or folate (Vitamin B-9). The body may have problems absorbing these vitamins. May occur in celiac disease, after small intestinal surgery/resection, if excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed or from side effects of certain prescription drugs.

  • Pernicious Anemia – the body attacks the stomach cells that produce intrinsic factors. Without this (intrinsic factor, B-12 can’t be absorbed. This can be considered a subcategory of vitamin deficiency anemia.

  • Iron Deficiency Anemia – this is the most common type of anemia. Iron is necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails. Multiple categories are involved with iron deficiency anemia, but the primary issue that needs to be addressed is heme iron – first in the diet, then supplementation. Heme iron is most absorbable from animal products (not plants – this is a different type of iron and does not address iron deficiency anemia adequately). 

  • Anemia of Chronic Disease Second most common type of anemia. Multifactorial and includes diagnosis of chronic inflammatory disease (from an infection, autoimmune disease, kidney disease, or cancer)

Understanding the differences between types of anemia can steer you in the right direction for treatment.

It doesn’t need to be overly complicated, and your physician can determine the proper course of treatment often based on lab values alone.  

Eating a nutrient-dense diet that includes iron is a start, but not the only solution. Knowing what those food sources treat a specific type of anemia are key.

Plant sources alone won’t treat iron-deficient anemia effectively. Animal products are ideal.

Consuming B-12 supplements may not solve pernicious anemia if the gut is leaky.

In 2014:

  •  61% of Americans had at least one chronic condition

  • 42 % of Americans had 2 chronic conditions

  • 12% of Americans had 5 or more chronic conditions

In 2020 – 50% of all deaths were related to chronic disease