Are you tired and weak? Does the lining of your lower eyelids look pale? If so, you could be anaemic. But what does that mean? It means that either your red blood cells or the amount of haemoglobin (oxygen-carrying protein) in your red blood cells is low.
There are several types of anaemia:
• Iron-deficiency anaemia is the most common one. The primary cause is blood lost during menstruation. But eating too few iron-rich foods or not absorbing enough iron can make the problem worse. The recommended daily allowance for iron ranges from 6 milligrams for infants, to 30 milligrams for pregnant women. Yet one medical source found that females between 12 and 50 years old (those at highest risk for iron-deficiency anaemia), get about half of what they need. Pregnancy, breast-feeding and blood loss from the gastrointestinal tract, either due to ulcers or cancer, can also deplete iron stores.
• Folic-acid deficiency anaemia 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. This is often not met by diets of pregnant women, so a supplement of 400 micrograms (mcg) to 1 milligram (mg) per day of folic acid is recommended throughout pregnancy. You should even take this supplement when you plan to become pregnant. Adequate folic acid should be in your system when you conceive and during the first month you are pregnant. Low folic acid intakes have been associated with low birth weight and neural tube defects, such as spina bifida in babies. Folic-acid deficiency can lead to infertility and an increased risk of infection.
Other, less common forms of anaemia include:
- Pernicious anaemia – the inability of the body to properly absorb vitamin B12.
- Hemolytic anaemia – when red blood cells are destroyed prematurely.
- Sickle cell anaemia – an inherited disorder, which affects the red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.
- Thalassemia anaemia – an inherited disorder in the synthesis of haemoglobins (substances that carry oxygen). It is also known as Mediterranean Disease.
- Aplastic anaemia – a serious disease of decreased bone marrow production. Alcohol, certain drugs, large amounts of aspirin and some chronic diseases can also cause anaemia.
The first step in treating anaemia is to pinpoint the cause. When it results from disease, such as a peptic ulcer, you will need to follow your doctor’s advice to get the condition under control. If it’s due to a poor diet, you’re in luck: Iron deficiency anaemia is not only the most common form of anaemia, it’s the easiest to correct if it’s due to heavy periods or taking in inadequate amounts of certain foods. Folic acid vitamin supplements may also be necessary.
Self-Care Procedures for Iron-Deficiency Anaemia
You may need to:
- Eat more foods that are good sources of iron: Concentrate on green, leafy vegetables, lean, red meat, beef liver, poultry, fish, wheat germ, oysters, dried fruit and iron-fortified cereals.
- 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 good amount of iron, it also increases absorption of iron from other food sources.
- Limit the use of tea. It contains tannins, substances that can inhibit iron absorption. Herbal tea is okay though.
- Take an iron supplement: Consult your physician for proper dosage.
- Increase dietary fibre to prevent constipation.
- Avoid aspirin and products with aspirin.
To get and/or make the best use of folic acid:
- Eat good food sources of folic acid daily: These include vegetables like asparagus, brussel sprouts, spinach, lettuce, collard greens and broccoli.
- Black-eyed peas, cantaloupe, orange juice, oatmeal, whole grain cereals, wheat germ, liver and other organ meats are excellent sources also.
- Eat fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables often. Don’t overcook food. Heat destroys folic acid.
- Take a multi-vitamin supplement daily that has 100% of the RDA for folic acid.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking increases vitamin needs.
- Don’t drink alcoholic beverages