38. How to Correct Common Anemia

If someone says you look anemic, glance at yourself in a mirror. Are you pale, tired, listless, and weak – and look it? Maybe you are anemic. But what does that mean?

Anemia means that either your red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying protein) in your red blood cells is low.

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. In the United States, 20 percent of all women of childbearing age have iron deficiency anemia (compared to 2 percent of adult men). The primary cause is blood lost during menstruation. But eating too few iron-rich foods and not adequately absorbing iron can compound the problem. (The recommended daily allowance for iron ranges from 6 to 30 milligrams. Yet one government source found that females between 12 and 50 years old – those at highest risk for iron deficiency anemia – get about half that much.) Pregnancy, breast-feeding a baby and blood loss from the gastrointestinal tract (either due to ulcers or cancer) can also deplete iron stores.

Folic acid deficiency anemia occurs when folic acid levels are low, usually due to inadequate dietary intake or faulty absorption. (The need for this vitamin more than doubles during pregnancy.)

Other, less common forms of anemia include pernicious anemia (inability of the body to properly absorb vitamin B12), sickle cell anemia (an inherited disorder discussed in Tip 75 in chapter 2, Major Medical Conditions: Prevention, Detection, and Treatment), and thalassemia anemia (also inherited).

The first step in treating anemia is to pinpoint the cause. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia and the easiest to correct if it’s due to being female or taking in inadequate amounts of certain foods. Folic acid supplements may also be needed. Your doctor may advise that you:

  1. Eat more food sources of iron, such as green, leafy vegetables, red meat, beef liver, poultry, fish, wheat germ, and iron-fortified cereal.

  2. Boost your iron absorption. Foods high in vitamin C like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and strawberries help your body absorb iron from food. Red meat not only supplies a goodly amount of iron, it also increases absorption of iron from other food sources.

  3. If you drink tea, drink it between meals. Tannins in tea can inhibit the iron absorbed from plant sources of foods. Or, add a little milk to the tea. The calcium in milk binds with the tannins. (Herbal teas may have tannins, but much less than black tea.)

  4. Take an iron supplement as advised by your doctor. {Note:Persons with a genetic illness called hemochromatosis (iron overload disease) can be harmed with iron supplements.} Iron is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach. If doing this upsets your stomach, take iron with meals.

Chapter 1
  1. Fast Relief for Everyday Health Problems