Some people describe anemia as similar to having “tired blood.” I don’t know how true it is that an anemic person’s blood is actually tired, but I know they usually feel exhausted and run-down most of the time because the body doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. In fact, fatigue is the hallmark symptom of anemia, but there’s a whole lot more to this common malady that can be prevented in most cases. When we understand the gravity of anemia and how widespread it is in certain seasons of life, such as women in their reproductive years and senior adults with pre-existing health issues, it becomes crucial to learn about anemia causes – symptoms and natural treatment. Let’s begin.
What is Anemia?
Anemia is a common blood disorder that is characterized by abnormally low levels of healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells are critical for delivering oxygen to tissues all over the body. A lack of available oxygen in the body leads to the main symptom of anemia, fatigue. Insufficient oxygen also puts our bodies into an unhealthy state that opens the door to many diseases.
Anemia is a common condition that affects over 3 million Americans. There are more than 400 known types of anemia. It can range from so mild that you don’t even know you have it to severe enough to be life-threatening.
Red blood cells are responsible for delivering oxygen to the body. They only live for about 120 days and are then recycled and used to create a new supply of red blood cells. Anemia occurs due to several conditions:
- Blood loss reduces the number of red blood cells.
- Reduced production of red blood cells.
- Increased destruction of red blood cells.
Anemia Causes – Symptoms and Natural Treatment
What Causes Anemia?
Understanding the basics of how our blood is designed will help us to understand anemia better. The blood is composed of three main components:
- White Blood Cells: These are the cells that are part of the immune system and are responsible for helping the body fight infection.
- Platelets: Their main function is to help the blood clot to stop the flow after a cut or wound.
- Red Blood Cells: Also called erythrocytes, these are the vehicles for the distribution of oxygen throughout the body. Without enough oxygenated blood, every system of the body suffers. They cannot function properly, and they are put in a compromising position that makes them more prone to disease.
A substance called hemoglobin is the actual agent that makes it possible for the erythrocytes to transport oxygen. Hemoglobin is a protein with high iron content, and it also gives the blood its characteristic red color. Hemoglobin is also responsible for carrying carbon dioxide to the lungs so that it can be exhaled. This specialized protein plays a key role in keeping the body’s “engine” running smoothly. In a way, it is similar to an automobile engine. Oxygen must be present for combustion (energy), and the waste products must be expelled via the exhaust system (exhalation).
As with most health conditions, a nutritious, well-balanced diet is critically important for hearty red blood cells and is the best defense against most forms of anemia. The majority of blood cells, including erythrocytes, are manufactured by the bone marrow. This is the factory where the dead red blood cells are recycled and used along with iron and vitamins from the foods we consume to form new ones. When the system breaks down, enough hemoglobin-rich erythrocytes are not produced, and your body becomes anemic.
What are the Most Common Types of Anemia?
Among the hundreds of types of anemia, there is a handful that is the most commonly found:
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron Deficiency Anemia is the most common form of anemia and is found in about 20% of all women (50% of pregnant women) and only 3% of men. As the name indicates, iron deficiency anemia occurs when there are insufficient iron levels in the body. This can be caused by not enough iron in the diet or blood loss that lowers the amount of iron in the body. Sometimes your body may try to compensate by producing more red blood cells, but they are often abnormally small without enough iron.
Heavy bleeding or hemorrhaging does not give the body enough red blood cells to recycle to form new ones. So, if you lose blood, your iron levels drop. It is a vicious cycle because as iron levels drop, there is less iron available for hemoglobin-rich red blood cells, making the iron plummet even lower. This is why anemia can be a progressive condition that may start with no symptoms and slowly worsen to the point where signs such as fatigue become apparent. Internal bleeding, or a condition that causes chronic blood loss, such as an ulcer, can lead to anemia.
Women who have heavy menstrual periods are also at risk for this type of anemia. Women who are carrying a baby must make sure they get plenty of iron in their diets. The fetus growing inside them demands a lot of iron, which may deplete the mother’s iron to problematic levels. Just think, “Popeye,” mom, and remember to eat your spinach! (Not canned—fresh, raw, organic is best).
Vitamin Deficiency Anemia
Your body needs, at sufficient levels to produce enough healthy erythrocytes, Vitamin B12 and folate (B-complex). Vitamin deficiency anemia type is mostly due to a poor diet that doesn’t contain enough of these nutrients. Another less common cause is one of several intestinal disorders that result in the inability of the body to absorb nutrients properly. When a person has a specific inability to absorb vitamin B12 and becomes deficient in B12, we refer referred to it as “pernicious anemia.” Since the body stores B12, it may take quite a while before pernicious anemia makes itself known, up to 4 years in some folks. Again, eating a healthy balanced diet will avoid most cases of vitamin deficiency anemia.
Chronic Disease Anemia
Chronic anemia is a secondary form of anemia due to a side effect of another condition. Many chronic illnesses can interfere with the production of healthy red blood cells. Examples of such conditions include Crohn’s disease, alcoholism, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. Kidney disease can also result in anemia due to low levels of a hormone called erythropoietin that is normally produced by the kidneys and used by the body to manufacture red blood cells. Some forms of chemotherapy used in the treatment of cancer can also bring on anemia by destroying erythropoietin.
These types of anemia are the result of erythrocytes being killed off faster than the bone marrow can produce them and brought about by various things, including medications (some antibiotics, for one) and certain blood diseases that result in the premature death of red blood cells. Some autoimmune diseases can also mistakenly identify red blood cells as invaders to be destroyed. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin) may be a sign of hemolytic anemia. Enlargement of the spleen can also occur with this type of anemia.
Bone Marrow Disease Anemias
Certain diseases associated with bone marrow dysfunction can result in too few hemoglobin-rich red blood cells and cause anemia. Some of these conditions cause a reduction in erythrocyte production, while others can be life-threatening by completely shutting down the body’s ability to make blood. Examples of diseases that can cause bone marrow-related anemia are: leukemia, myelodysplasia, multiple myeloma, and certain forms of lymphoma. Many of these are types of cancer or precancerous conditions.
This type of anemia occurs when the bone marrow is damaged or unable to produce all three forms of blood cells—red, white, and platelets. The cause of aplastic anemia is unknown, but it is suspected to be an autoimmune condition. Possible triggers may be lupus and other inflammatory autoimmune diseases, exposure to environmental toxins, and side effects of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Sickle Cell Anemia
This is an inherited form of anemia that is found almost exclusively in Africans and some Mediterranean peoples. A defective form of hemoglobin forms abnormally shaped red blood cells (sickle-shaped) that are not able to survive and function normally. This is a serious disease that results in a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
What are the Symptoms of Anemia?
Fatigue is the number one symptom associated with all forms of anemia. Other signs may include:
- Pale skin
- Lack of color in the nail beds, gums, creases of the palms, or lining of the eyelids.
- Dry, brittle nails with uncharacteristic ridges in them
- Cold hands and/or feet
- Angina pectoris (chest pain, often associated with a choking feeling that may cause anxiety
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Unusual perspiration
- Unusual thirst
- Inflammation of the mouth or tongue (stomatitis or glossitis)
- Cognitive problems such as memory loss or inability to concentrate
- Sores in the rectal area
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Hair loss (usually with severe anemia)
- Unsteady movement
Pernicious anemia (B12 deficiency) can cause spinal cord damage and should be dealt with without delay. It has some specific signs that may help to diagnose it:
- An unusual slick feeling to the tongue
- Difficulties with movement or balance
- Tingling in the extremities
- More intense cognitive issues, such as depression, memory loss, and confusion
How Can I Treat Anemia Naturally?
Most forms of anemia, other than secondary or inherited ones, can be dramatically turned around or completely avoided by a very healthy diet. Many mainstream doctors will tell you that you must eat dairy products and meat to get enough iron. Some even go as far as saying that vegetarian diets are dangerous because they do not provide enough iron and lead to chronic anemia. This advice is nonsense. There are plenty of high-quality sources of non-heme foods and quality non-heme iron supplements. Even if you choose to consume some dairy foods and meat, make sure they are organic and grass-fed. Some excellent foods that provide good amounts of iron include:
- Spinach and other leafy green veggies
- Whole grain rice (brown or wild)
- Dried beans
- Dried fruits
- Whole-grain bread and cereals
- Brewer’s yeast – add to cereal, salad, or juice
- High Vitamin C foods such as tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries
- Blackstrap molasses (one spoonful daily)
Foods That May Block Iron Absorption
- Added sugar/sweeteners
- Processed grains
- Chocolate. Although chocolate is rich in iron, it also contains tannins which are a type of antinutrient that interferes with iron absorption. Eat chocolate in moderation and include plenty of other iron-rich foods in your diet. It’s usually a good idea to go with milk and white chocolate to minimize tannin intake.
- Bran. Bran is high in insoluble fiber that encases and removes iron during digestion.
- Conventional dairy. Calcium binds with iron in foods and can lead to poor absorption.
- Soda Drinks. Soda is high in sugar and poor in nutrients, and blocks iron absorption.
- Coffee and black tea. Drinking a lot of coffee and tea may block iron absorption. Try to no more than one cup per day.
Other nutrients that often cause anemia due to deficiency are vitamin C and folic acid.
Vitamin C helps to stimulate iron absorption. A good tip to remember is that fresh, raw fruits and vegetables provide the most vitamin C and folic acid (as well as many other nutrients). Fruits and veggies have a very short “shelf-life.” Light and heat are especially harmful to folic acid.
When you are emotionally stressed by struggling with forgiveness, anger, chronic worry, anxiety, it will exhaust and deplete both your spleen and your liver. The best solution is to re-group and decide to take time for yourself to relax, repair, and refresh on a daily basis. Spending time off of your devices and social media and getting enough restful sleep at night will help relieve stress and even boost your immune system.
Choosing to boost your gut health with a good probiotic and prebiotic supplement is prudent. Gut health is critical for proper nutrient absorption. If you’re not digesting properly and absorbing and assimilating nutrients properly, you’re not absorbing iron.
Sometimes when people take iron supplements, they don’t find that the supplements are working. The usual reason is that their digestive system isn’t healthy and could have a condition called leaky gut syndrome. A leaky gut doesn’t allow you to efficiently absorb iron as well as other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, magnesium, and zinc.
A Stanford medical study found that when participants supplemented with probiotics, all of their B vitamin levels went up, along with their iron levels. (R) So rather than just take an iron tablet without fixing the underlying concern, it’s always best to make changes that deal with the root concern of faulty gut health.
Keep Your Spleen Nourished
When talking about treating anemia naturally, your spleen is very important. The spleen is responsible for red blood cell production, as well as keeping fluids together in your system. When the spleen isn’t healthy, anemia often results.
The good news is that some foods can assist in nourishing your spleen and, therefore, help overcome anemia symptoms naturally. Those foods include squash — specifically pumpkin, acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash — and bright orange-colored foods. Try to get one to two servings of squash in your daily diet.
Other important foods for nourishing your spleen and red blood cell production are green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and chard. Try to get one serving of these foods every day.
Bitter foods are wonderful for nourishing the spleen—vegetables such as romaine lettuce, arugula, and bitter herbs. But any food that’s considered a bitter food will nourish the spleen.
Supplements and Herbs for Anemia
According to the Mayo Clinic, most adults with diagnosed anemia need these daily dietary vitamins.
Vitamin B-12 — 2.4 micrograms (mcg)
Folate or folic acid — 400 mcg
Vitamin C — 75 to 90 milligrams
And to the group above, I would highly suggest Iron Fuzion, a plant-based iron made with organic Curry Leaf Extract.
Recommended Herbs for Anemia include the following:
Moringa – Moringa leaves are imbued with ample iron, vitamins A, C, and magnesium. A serving offers 28mg of iron more than what is present in spinach. Regular addition of moringa leaves is well-known to improve hemoglobin level, and red blood cells count.
Dandelion – Dandelion leaves contain high levels of iron and boost the body’s ability to absorb this important mineral.
Nettle – Also known as stinging nettle, this herb is very high in iron. Making it more valuable, nettle also contains vitamins A (retinol), B group, C (ascorbic acid), and K — all improve iron absorption in the body. Consuming nettle for anemia is both beneficial and simple. It can be consumed as a tonic, tea, and supplement or consumed like iron-rich spinach in homemade pesto sauce and salads.
Dried Thyme – Thyme is another herb with high iron content – 1.2 mg per dried teaspoon or around 7% of the RDI (R). An effective strategy for increasing iron intake is to sprinkle a bit of thyme on each meal.
Learning about anemia causes – symptoms and natural treatment are essential. Even though you may be able to treat anemia naturally by just making changes to your diet, lifestyle, and adding supplements, don’t put off speaking with a knowledgeable and trusted healthcare practitioner. Anemia can often be secondary to other more serious illnesses or diseases. And there is always the possibility that you could be excessively tired or fatigued for other reasons that don’t have anything to do with anemia. Once you get a diagnosis, you can decide how you prefer to move forward.