Looking pale? Feeling weak and tired? There’s a quick blood test available to assess
whether anemia is to blame — and if so, whether it’s caused by iron-poor blood or something else. Your doctor is the best person to ask about whether certain supplements might be right for you.
Weakness, fatigue, dizziness, irritability, or mental confusion.
Paleness, especially of the gums and eyelids or under the nails.
Palpitations; shortness of breath.
Sores in the mouth or tongue; unusual bruising or bleeding.
Numbness and tingling of the feet or legs.
Nausea and diarrhea.
When to Call Your Doctor
If you have any symptoms of anemia — your doctor must find the underlying cause.
If you are pregnant (or are considering pregnancy) or menstruate heavily.
If you are following a treatment plan for anemia — regular checkups can determine if
supplements are working.
Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
What It Is
Anemia is a condition in which there is a shortage of red cells in the blood or a
deficiency of hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying pigment) in these cells. When anemia occurs, the body doesn’t get enough oxygen, and weakness and fatigue result. Although symptoms may not appear — or may be very mild — for a long time, the condition can be life-threatening if it is left undiagnosed and untreated. Should you suspect you are anemic, it’s essential that you see your doctor promptly to ascertain the underlying cause. Treatment will vary, depending on the diagnosis.
What Causes It
Iron deficiency, the most common cause of anemia, usually results from a gradual, prolonged blood loss, which depletes the body’s iron stores. Without enough iron, hemoglobin levels fall. Menstruating women, particularly those with heavy periods, are prone to iron-deficiency anemia. However, men and women can develop iron deficiency from any condition that causes slow bleeding — including long-term hemorrhoids, rectal polyps, or ulcers; stomach or colon cancer; or prolonged use of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. Because so many foods are fortified with iron, iron-deficiency anemia can rarely be attributed to a lack of this mineral in the diet.
Less common is anemia that results from a deficiency of vitamin B12 (in which case it’s called pernicious anemia) or folic acid. Both nutrients are essential to red blood cell production. Alcoholics, smokers, people with certain digestive disorders, vegetarians, those over age 50, and pregnant or lactating women are the most likely to be at risk, either because of poor nutrition or an inability to absorb these nutrients properly. Other forms of anemia can be traced to chronic illnesses (for example, cancer, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis); hereditary disorders such as sickle-cell anemia; or exposure to toxic drugs, chemicals, or radiation.
How Supplements Can Help
Before taking supplements, you need to determine the underlying cause of your anemia. It’s especially important to see a doctor about iron-deficiency anemia, which may be caused by internal bleeding. If you’re advised to take supplements, have blood work every month to see if they are worthwhile.
If iron-deficiency anemia is diagnosed, the mineral iron combined with vitamin C may be of
value. A study involving 28 strict vegetarians found that 500 mg of vitamin C, taken after
lunch and dinner for two months, raised hemoglobin levels by 8% and blood iron levels by
17%. Vitamin C increases the body’s ability to absorb iron.
Take iron only under your doctor’s supervision, because too much can be dangerous.
Most postmenopausal women and men of all ages get plenty of iron in their diet and should not take a multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains it. A recent survey of elderly Americans found that more than 90% of them had too much iron in their diets –and that only 1% suffered from iron — deficiency anemia. Excess iron acts as an “oxidant,” generating harmful molecules called free radicals that can raise cholesterol and block arteries. Toomuch iron has been linked to heart disease.
Various herbs may also be useful. Yellow dock has modest amounts of iron, but it’s well
absorbed and can raise blood iron levels. Other iron-rich herbs include seaweed and dulse.
Taken as a tincture, juice, or tea, some herbs (dandelion, burdock, mint, and linden
flowers) may enhance the body’s ability to absorb iron from foods or supplements.
Vitamin C may be beneficial if you have anemia caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12 or
folic acid as well; it aids the body in absorbing these nutrients. Vitamin B12 and folic
acid should always be taken in tandem, and under a doctor’s supervision, because a high
intake of one can mask a deficiency of the other. Together they work to boost production of red blood cells. Once anemia is corrected and a problem with absorption has been ruled out as a cause, the amount of B12 and folic acid in your daily multivitamin may be sufficient to prevent a recurrence.
What Else You Can Do
Eat foods rich in iron (dried beans, liver, red meat, dried fruits, nuts, shellfish); in
folic acid (citrus fruits, asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, liver, soybeans, wheat germ); and
in vitamin B12 (liver, shellfish, lamb, beef, cheese, fish, eggs).
Vitamin B12/Folic Acid
Dosage: 30 mg 3 times a day with meals.
Comments: Your doctor may prescribe a higher dosage.
Dosage: 500 mg 3 times a day.
Comments: Take with meals to enhance iron absorption from foods.
Vitamin B12/Folic Acid
Dosage: 1,000 mcg B12 and 400 mcg folic acid in sublingual form twice a day for 1 month.
Comments: Always take B12 and folic acid together. If still anemic after oral B12
supplements, you may need B12 injections.
Dosage: 1,000 mg each morning.
Comments: Or take 1/2 tsp. tincture twice a day.
Dosage: 1 tsp. fresh juice or tincture with water twice a day.
Comments: Take with yellow dock to enhance iron absorption.
Source:Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs