In simple terms, anemia is lack of healthy red blood cells i.e. hemoglobin in the blood. As we know, hemoglobin (Hb) carries oxygen to different parts of our body through blood. Thus, low Hb means, insufficient oxygen supply to the organs.
Causes and types:
Lack of iron in the blood can also lead to anemia. Shortage of iron could be due to blood loss, in case of ulcers or menstrual cycles in women or during pregnancy when the requirement of iron shoots up. Vitamin B12 and folic acid along with iron are needed for normal functioning of the red blood cells (RBC), so a deficiency of these nutrients can also cause anemia. A few commonly observed types of anemia are:
Iron deficiency anemia: It is the most common type of anemia. It happens due to the lack of enough iron in the blood.
Pernicious anemia: Lack of vitamin B12 leading to anemia, especially seen in vegetarians and elderly people.
Aplastic anemia: Deficiency of RBCs caused due to damage of bone marrow, where RBCs are formed.
Hemolytic anemia: Early destruction of matured RBCs due to genetic disorders like sickle cell anemia.
Anemia shows up no symptoms initially. When symptoms appear, it can be as common as dizziness, lethargy, weakness, feeling faint and dizzy spells. A few advanced symptoms of anemia could be shortness of breath, palpitations, headaches, sore mouth and gums, and brittle nails or even hair fall. You may also look pale due to severe anemia.
Anyone can suffer from anemia. It is mostly seen in children, teenagers, women of childbearing age and in men and women above 75 years of age. Anemia is common during pregnancy and also in vegetarians. As we age, we are at risk of developing anemia due to the reduction in the efficiency of producing ‘intrinsic factor', needed to transport vitamin B12 into the body.
Treatment depends on the cause of anemia. If anemia is only due to iron deficiency, a diet rich in iron will improve the Hb levels. Mild deficiency of vitamin B12 can be treated through dietary supplements or severe deficiency is corrected with intramuscular vitamin B12 injections. Folic acid supplements are used to treat anemia due to low folate.
Foods that are rich in the above mentioned essential nutrients include:
Iron - red meat, liver, green vegetables, eggs, dried apricots, sardines, spinach, fortified breakfast cereals, multi-grain bread, rice flakes, nuts, green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B12 - meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, fortified breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables.
Folic acid - broccoli, green cabbage, pulses, nuts.
It is also essential to include foods rich in vitamin C (lime, guava, mousambi, amla) along with the above-mentioned foods as it effectively increases the absorption of iron from the diet.