The Health Index
Anaemia is a deficiency in red blood cells (erythrocytes) and red blood pigment (haemoglobin). The main task of the red blood cells is to transport oxygen from the lungs to the various tissues of the body.
What are the causes?
Anaemia can have many different causes. For example, there may be reduced formation or increased breakdown of red blood cells, or insufficient production of red blood pigment. The loss of erythrocytes, for example through bleeding, also leads to anaemia.
Often, the underlying cause is a deficiency of important nutrients or minerals, such as iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid. Such deficiencies can be caused either by a major loss of blood or by insufficient intake or absorption of the relevant nutrients. Iron deficiency is the most common human deficiency disease worldwide.
Women of child-bearing age are particularly likely to suffer from iron deficiency due to the regular blood loss through periods. Iron deficiency affects women in four out of five cases, especially those with heavy menstrual bleeding. The anaemia that frequently occurs in the second half of pregnancy is usually caused by the increased water content of the blood as well as a lack of folic acid and iron.
Chronic bleeding, such as that caused by a stomach or duodenal ulcer, can also lead to anaemia due to the loss of red blood cells. In addition, anaemia is an accompanying symptom of a variety of chronic diseases, such as rheumatic diseases or kidney disease. Tumours and infections, too, can be accompanied by anaemia.
Some anaemias, although rare, are congenital. These hereditary diseases include spherocytosis (membrane defect of the red blood cells), sickle cell anaemia (qualitative change in haemoglobin) and thalassemia (quantitative disruption of haemoglobin synthesis).
What are the symptoms?
The red blood cells transport oxygen, which is bound to haemoglobin in the cells, via the bloodstream to the organs to maintain their function. A lack of red blood cells results in a lack of oxygen. This can manifest itself as:
How can our Nutritionists help?
If your doctor has diagnosed anaemia, your nutrition practitioner will explore the possible underlying cause with you. They will request a food diary, ask questions about your health history, diet and lifestyle to try and see whether an explanation for the anaemia can be found that way:
Does your diet contain sufficient amounts of iron, vitamin B12 and folate?
Does it contain those nutrients in their best absorbable forms?
Could there be a reason why they are not being properly absorbed? - For example due to low stomach acid levels or a high intake or anti-nutrients, such as oxalates or phytic acid, which are contained in certain foods.
Your nutrition practitioner will then create a nutrition and lifestyle plan to take these findings into account. They may suggest further testing and perhaps the use of nutritional supplements.
One possible cause is frequent heavy periods. If this is your experience, your nutrition practitioner will investigate and address possible hormonal imbalances. They will use targeted questions and may suggest functional testing to get a better picture and then develop a nutrition and lifestyle plan to help balance your hormones.