Anaemia is a condition where the red blood cells or the haemoglobin within these cells is lower than normal. Red blood cells and specifically the haemoglobin molecule within these cells are responsible for carrying oxygen. Anaemia is not a single condition but a group of conditions with the same consequence – the ability of blood to carry oxygen is compromised to some degree. The most common type of anaemia is iron-deficiency anaemia and it is often seen in girls and women of menstruating age. Some types of anaemia can be very dangerous and even deadly without treatment.
The body is constantly producing new red blood cells in the bone marrow to replace old and worn out cells. A major component of red blood cells is haemoglobin which is formed from iron. Therefore a good supply of iron is necessary in order to produce healthy red blood cells, as well as other nutrients such as folate and vitamin B12. It is haemoglobin that gives red blood cells the ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. Haemoglobin also carries carbon dioxide from different parts of the body to the lungs where it can be expelled.
There are three ways in which this reduction in red blood cells or haemoglobin occurs. Either the body does not produce sufficient red blood cells for its needs, red blood cells are being destroyed excessively and prematurely, or red blood cells are being lost (as part of blood) due to bleeding at some site in the body. With bleeding in particular, the loss of other blood components may also give rise to a range of additional symptoms that are seen in anaemia.
The main reasons why anaemia occurs includes:
- Inadequate nutrition such as low intake of dietary iron, vitamin B12 or folate.
- Massive blood loss like after major surgery.
- Small volume blood loss that is frequent or constant like bleeding within the digestive tract and menstruation.
- Disorders with intestinal function such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease that affects the bowel’s ability to absorb nutrients.
- Pregnancy as the growing foetus drain’s the mother’s iron stores.
- Genetic defects that alters the way red blood cells are formed. There is a family history of these types of anaemia as is the case with sickle cell anaemia.
- Anaemia of chronic disease is a condition that arises with long term diseases even if there is no significant blood loss.
- Blood disorders.
- Exposure to certain toxic chemicals.
- Some autoimmune diseases.
Tea, Orange Juice and Iron
It is now known that tea and coffee can affect the body’s ability to absorb iron. The effect is more significant for vegetarians since their dietary iron is from plants (non-heme iron) that can be easily disturbed with simultaneous tea consumption. The absorption of heme iron found in meat products is not as significantly affected by tea or coffee intake. High vitamin C intake can improve iron absorption provided that there is sufficient dietary intake or iron-rich foods.
There are several different types of anaemia.
- Iron-deficiency anaemia (most common)
- Anaemia of chronic disease (from HIV, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and so on)
- Aplastic anaemia (from certain infections, pharmaceutical drugs and autoimmune diseases)
- Anaemia from bone marrow disease (from leukaemia and related bone marrow disorders)
- Haemolytic anaemia
- Sickle cell anaemia
- Vitamin deficiency anaemia (vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia and folate deficiency anaemia)
- Rare anaemias like thalassaemia
The symptoms of anaemia are largely similar to the symptoms that arise when the blood volume is low. This includes:
- Pale skin, particularly of the face, hands and feet. A bluish tinge of the nails may occur in cold conditions.
- Fatigue (unusual tiredness) since the blood cannot deliver enough oxygen to meet the demands of the body.
- Rapid heartbeat, which may also be irregular, along with low blood pressure (hypotension).
- Shortness of breath with difficulty breathing during times of physical activity.
- Dizziness, difficulty concentrating and other disturbances of the mental functions due to insufficient oxygen.
- Headaches, chest pain, leg cramps and so on are largely muscle related.
It is important to remember that mild anaemia may not produce any significant symptoms. A person can be anaemic for years and not even know it until the low iron and haemoglobin levels are detected with a blood test.
The treatment for anaemia depends on the cause. Dietary change, iron and vitamin supplements may be helpful for iron-deficiency and vitamin-deficiency anaemias but may not be as beneficial for other anaemias. If necessary, a blood transfusion may have to be considered for severe anaemia. Hormones like erythropoietin which stimulates red blood cell production, and immune-suppressing drugs may be neeede for certain types of anaemia. It is therefore important that anaemia is diagnosed, treated and monitored by a medical professional.
The homeopathic treatment for anaemia depends on the underlying cause as well as individual factors. The specific homeopathic remedy is prescribed according to each individual case. Certain tissue salts like Ferrum phos and Nat mur may be helpful for mild to moderate anaemia.
Herbal & Other
Herbs that may be helpful in the treatment and management of anaemia includes alfalfa, burdock, dandelion, gentiana, nettles and yellowdock. Spirulina supplements can also be helpful. Iron, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin C supplements may also be prescribed along with dietary modification (foods to eat and avoid).
Always consult with a homeopath before starting any homeopathic, herbal or nutritional supplements.