Anemia occurs when the organs and tissues in the body lacks healthy red blood cells and hemoglobin inside them. Hemoglobin, a major part of the human red blood cells, is a protein that binds oxygen and transports it throughout the tissues in your body.
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To determine if you’re anemic, you’ll need a complete blood count (CBC) test to check your hemoglobin level. According to WHO reference values, the normal threshold is considered to be 120 g/L (12 g/dl or 7.4 mmol/l) for adult non-pregnant women and 130 g/L (13 g/dL or 8.1 mmol/l) for adult men.
Everything below that threshold suggests current or approaching anemia, with several severity stages:
- Mild – 110 g/L to normal
- Moderate – 80 to 109 g/L
- Severe – Lower than 80 g/L
Technically, any number in between the normal threshold and 110 g/L (115, for example) is not considered to be anemia yet, but it’s a warning sign to look into.
In 2015, about 2.36 billion people globally were living with some degree of anemia. The condition is very common, but that doesn’t mean it’s a harmless and minor one. If left untreated, it can cause irreversible damage to structures in the human body.
Causes of Anemia
There are many factors that can result in anemia, but all of them are based on at least one of the following mechanisms:
- Impaired production of red blood cells/hemoglobin
- Increased destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia)
- Blood loss (hemorrhagic anemia)
- Decreased Production of Red Blood Cells/Hemoglobin
Anemia is unavoidable if your body can’t produce red blood cells and hemoglobin. These are the most common reasons for that:
- Lack of vital nutrients: Folate, iron, and vitamin B12 are components that are totally essential for the proper synthesis of red blood cells and hemoglobin.
- Toxic damage:Some medications can severely constrain the production red blood cells. Methotrexate, for example, is a medication that is widely used for the orthodox treatment of autoimmune diseases.
- Eating highly processed foods or foods with artificial preservatives on a regular basis will also contribute to impaired production of red blood cells.
- Congenital disorders: Some hereditary conditions, like thalassemia or aplastic anemias, also lead to hemoglobin deficiency. At the time being, there is no confirmed and guaranteed treatment to most of these illnesses, as they are encoded in the genes of a person.
- Increased Destruction of Red Blood Cells (Hemolytic Anemia)
There are factors and conditions that trigger the destruction of red blood cells in the body, thus causing anemia. The most common ones are:
- Blood-destroying toxins: This includes medications such as cephalosporins, diclofenac, oxaliplatin, fludarabin, and dozens of others. Some animals, fishes, and plants also produce hemolytic toxins.
- Autoimmune and congenital disorders: There are many health conditions in which your body starts triggering its own red blood cells and destroying them by the score. These includes autoimmune hemolytic anemia, hereditary spherocytosis. Restore the balance in your body to ease the course of these diseases as much as possible.
- Infections and medical procedures: Malaria is an infection of the blood during which a bug from the Plasmodium family starts infecting the red blood cells directly and ripping them from the inside. Some medical procedures like hemodialysis are also accompanied by a certain degree of red blood cell destruction.
- Blood Loss
Severe bleeding can instantly results in anemia. Women who menstruate are more prone to blood loss. If iron consumption and absorption does not replace the iron lost during your periods, you can end up with iron deficiency anemia.
a blood loss of up to 15% (about 750 ml) of a person’s total blood volume does not result in any anemic symptoms and does not require urgent treatment, unless the person has already had anemia before the bleeding.
Symptoms of Anemia
- Lethargy, fatigue, low energy levels
- Impaired motivation, focus, concentration
- Shortness of breath or abnormally rapid heartbeat, especially during physical activity or overcome by strong emotions
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Pale skin
- Dizziness spells
However, specific types of anemia have a few other symptoms:
- Iron deficiency anemia: Mouth sores, spoon-shaped nails (koilonychias), an inexplicable hunger for strange and inedible substances such as chalk, wood, dirt, ice (this is known as pica).
- B12 and/or folate deficiency anemia: A sensation of tickling or numbness in the extremities (paresthesia), easy bruising and bleeding, inflammation and soreness of the tongue, gastrointestinal symptoms.
What happens when anemia is left untreated?
Every single cell in your body needs oxygen to thrive, and carry out its daily functions. When the delivery of oxygen is affected, all of your organs and systems will be affected too. These includes;
- Cardiovascular system: The heart starts beating much faster and stronger, to make up for the lack of oxygen, often increasing the blood pressure. After a few months of working in such a fashion, the heart starts to expand, which is a permanent process that makes this organ much more likely to be affected by all sorts of diseases including coronary heart disease.
- Central nervous system: The brain is among the most sensitive to decreased oxygen delivery that’s caused by anemia. As a result, it starts working much less effectively, leading to impaired memory, focus, and learning potential. If the anemic state continues for a few years, the cognitive damage might even be irreversible.
- Endocrine system:When the endocrine glands in your body receive less oxygen than is needed for their proper function, virtually any kind of hormonal imbalance becomes much more likely.
- Immune system:People with anemia are much more likely to catch any kind of infection because their immune system is weakened by the chronic lack of oxygen. Their wounds and traumas heal much slower as well.
- Pregnancy complications:Severe anemia during pregnancy is linked with poor development of the baby and puts under great risk, both the baby’s and the mother’s life during labor.
Steps to healing anemia naturally
If you have a confirmed anemia diagnosis, below are ways you can significantly speed up your recovery:
- Improve digestive health and stomach acid
A poor digestive health is the beginning of many health conditions due to malabsorption of many nutrients. Most likely, you also have low stomach acid that thwarts proper absorption of nutrients such as iron and the B vitamins that lead to poor production of red blood cells.
A good place to start healing anemia is to give your body a gastrointestinal cleanse that will help your small intestines to start being able to absorb nutrients again. A parasite cleanse may also be necessary as parasite and fungal infections often cause anemia.
- Limit medications, eliminate all processed foods, added sugar, alcohol and green tea
When you eat highly processed foods that are high in the sugar and wrong fats, or on long-term medications, chances are you’re deficient in many nutrients. These nutrients are poor and your body also expend nutrients to digest them, causing further nutrient deficiencies.
Some medications will also lower your stomach acid, hence impeding your digestion and reduce nutrient absorption. When your body is not absorbing nutrients that it needs for synthesis of red blood cells/hemoglobin, you become anemic due to poor food choices.
READ ALSO: Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)
While drinking alcohol in moderation is fine, drinking excessively may lead to deadly health consequences. Extreme drinking can lead to destruction of red blood cells synthesis.
In heavy drinkers, alcohol anemia can occur in various ways, often as a side effect of liver cirrhosis. With alcohol in the blood system, it thwarts folate from functioning in blood-building as it should, putting the drinker at risk for alcohol anemia.
Avoid drinking green tea if you are anemic because it can interfere with iron absorption.
- Start exercising
Exercising works when you do it right. Studies indicate that moderate aerobic exercise is quite beneficial even for severe states of anemia.
Gradually increase the level of physical activity. Don’t strain yourself. Your goal is not to build muscle or lose weight but to stimulate your body into speeding up its processes.
- Eat a lot of foods rich in iron, protein, and B12 (folate)
Iron deficiency anemia is among the most common types of the disease. Luckily, it’s part of the so-called group of nutritional anemias—conditions that are caused by (and healed through) the things you eat. Here’s a short breakdown of what you should look for to reverse your specific anemia:
- Iron deficiency anemia: Liver, grass-fed beef, spinach, seafood, nuts, beans, fortified grains. Combine these foods with vitamin C to improve iron absorption.
- B12 deficiency anemia: Fish, poultry, dairy products, fortified cereals, algae (spirulina, chlorella, kelp).
- Great for all types of anemia: Aim to get enough proteins so that your body would have enough “building blocks” to produce hemoglobin, a protein itself.
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But don’t stop on just those 3 nutrients (iron, B12, proteins)—aim for a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet based on all-natural products. Your body is a delicate machine carrying out hundreds of intertwined processes at the same time—and you never know for sure which one of them will affect the other.
- Drink a glass of blood-building juice daily
Green juices and smoothies are one of the easiest way to flood your system with the right vitamins and nutrients to allow your body to use all the right foods you’re feeding it, to correct itself, restoring your blood count to its ideal level.
- Iron supplements
Supplement with iron to help restore the iron reduction back to normal as quickly as you safely can if you are severely anemic.
If eating foods and drinking juices high in iron is an issue, then supplementing with iron may be a good option.However, most iron supplements prescribed by the doctor or at the pharmacy may cause side effects such as an upset stomach, or constipation.
Instead go for supplement which is derived from natural beetroot, orange, folate and vitamin B12. All the right ingredients for efficient blood-building.