Anemia usually is related to blood loss or a lack of iron, B12, or folic acid in the diet. In younger women, the most common cause is blood loss during menstruation. Diet deficiencies are a common cause of anemia in older women and men. For younger men, it may result from gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers. Moderate to severe anemia can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, pale skin, dizziness, fuzzy thinking, breathing trouble, rapid heartbeat, and loss of sex drive.
If your health care practitioner has determined that iron deficiency is causing your anemia, you may need to take iron tablets, a high-potency vitamin B complex, and vitamin C twice a day. Continue taking these until your anemia has been corrected for at least three months, to ensure depleted iron stores have been completely replenished.
—Glen F. Aukerman, MD, OSU Center for Integrative Medicine, Columbus, Ohio
To prevent or help cure iron-deficiency anemia, eat foods rich in iron such as red meat, beans, dried fruits (especially apricots), nuts, shellfish, and liver. To treat folic acid–deficiency anemia, focus on folic acid–rich foods such as citrus, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, soybeans, wheat germ, and liver. For pernicious anemia, you may need high-dose supple-mental B12 but also may benefit from B12-rich foods including shellfish, lamb, beef, cheese, fish, eggs, and liver.
Avoid combining iron-rich foods or supplements with polyphenol-rich foods (such as chocolate, tea, coffee, and wine), which inhibit iron absorption. Oxalates—acids found in rhubarb, Swiss chard, chocolate, and spinach—prevent absorption. Broccoli, kale, and Asian greens, such as tatsoi, mustard, mizuma, and pea shoots, provide an abundance of easily absorbed iron.
—George Rapitis, BS, Livonia, Michigan-based nutritionist and author of Ask the Nutritionist (Authorhouse, 2005)
Chinese medicine's diagnosis of "blood deficiency" correlates to Western iron-deficiency anemia. Increase iron absorp-tion by eating warming foods such as porridges made with rice, sweet rice, and oats, seasoned with small amounts of warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, fennel, pepper, and onions. Many of these herbs also can be taken as teas or supplements. If you have severe anemia, include meat-based soups, and stay away from sweets and raw or cold foods. In general, aim to eat more nutrient-rich foods such as legumes, whole grains, leafy greens, seaweeds, and sprouts.
Finally, Chinese herbs can be very helpful in building blood; formulas often include dong quai, peony, rehmannia, and codonopsis. Consult your naturopath or herbalist for individual formulas and daily dosages, and to find out whether herbs in tea, tincture, or capsule form are best for you.
—Kristina Conner, ND, Carmel, Indiana