Did you know that anemia is the most common form of malnutrition found in women of all ages? Anemia is caused by reduced levels of hemoglobin, which is the iron-containing protein that is responsible for delivering oxygen to the cells. When hemoglobin is low, the body is unable to burn off the sugar to produce energy.
Symptoms are varied and ranging and can include, weakness, vertigo, headache, tinnitus, spots before the eyes, loss of libido, amenorrhea, drowsiness, irritability and sometimes changes in behavior.
There are different types of anemias, and the treatment depends on its cause and severity.
- Aplastic anemia is a rare condition characterized by low levels of red and white blood cells and platelets.
- Hemolytic anemia occurs because red blood cells are destroyed in the liver and spleen faster than they are produced.
- Pernicious anemia relates to a decreased body store of vitamin B12. Vegetarians are more prone to develop B12 deficiency because this nutrient is found primarily in animal protein.
- Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary disorder affecting hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying substance in red blood cells) and is most frequently seen in Africans and African Americans. Studies have shown that some persons with sickle cell anemia may be deficient in zinc.
- Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type, especially among women and the elderly. Iron reserves can be depleted by a poorly balanced diet, a diet low in iron and the consumption of processed foods. Bleeding from your gastrointestinal tract, heavy periods and hemorrhoids can also cause severe anemia.
If you suspect you’re anemic, consult your health-care practitioner for a blood test to determine the extent and type of anemia from which you may be suffering.
While it is necessary to consume an adequate amount of iron in your diet, it is also essential to be able to absorb the iron properly. Even if you eat an iron-rich diet, the lack of certain vitamins such as vitamin A, B-complex (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid) or vitamin C can result in under-absorption of iron. Folic acid, another member of the vitamin B complex, is required for the production of healthy red blood cells. It is an essential factor in the production of “heme,” the iron-containing pigment found in hemoglobin. A deficiency in folic acid hinders the production of normal red blood cells and is also essential for healthy brain and nervous system function. Folic acid is found primarily in leafy green vegetables and liver. Women who use birth control pills for contraception or to regulate menstrual cycles are at a greater risk of developing folic acid deficiency.
Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) is also necessary for normal red cell production. Anemia that fails to respond to iron may be corrected with daily supplements of vitamin B6. Vitamin E is essential for red blood cell survival as it helps to extend the life of red blood cells. Copper aids in the formation of red blood cells and iron absorption. Calcium supplements, antacids and zinc can inhibit iron absorption and should not be taken at the same time as iron supplements.
Your body absorbs iron in different quantities from different foods. Good sources of iron are chicken, seafood, beans and peas (black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils) dried fruits, dark leafy vegetables, molasses, wheat bran and wheat germ, oatmeal, whole grains (millet, barley, rye, oats) and soybean flour. Vegetables containing high amounts of iron include beet greens, swiss chard, spinach, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli and kale. Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans and almonds are good sources of vegetarian iron and are high in other essential nutrients.
Foods that reduce your ability to absorb iron include large quantities of bran, tea, coffee and a compound found in unleavened bread or unrefined cereals known as phytate. Drinking excessive alcohol is not only toxic to the liver but tends to deplete the body’s store of the vitamin B-complex. Caffeine and sugar also deplete B-complex stores, which may increase anxiety and stress.
Contact Village Green Apothecary to discuss different supplement options for your specific and individualized needs.
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