There are several different reasons why people could suffer from anemia. Anemia can be caused by three contributing factors: blood loss (iron deficiency anemia) malnutrition is a very rare cause in the developed world, but mostly seen in poor rural areas. Iron deficiency is most commonly caused by GI losses in males. With woman the higher possibility could be menstruation. GI losses could be due to peptic ulcer disease, Nsaid use, or inflammatory bowel diseases, and malignancy. There is also the possibility of decreased red blood cell production, or increased red blood cell destruction.
We are inspired to write this article today based on a chance meeting with member of public whose sister went vegan but gave up on her journey, due to peer pressure and ill advise from the medical profession, who convinced her that being vegan was it’s cause. Anemia can catch almost anyone off guard, millions of meat eaters suffer from anemia today. One simply needs to be well informed as to how to avoid anemia with a healthy plant based diet, and a little supplementation in order to confirm good course.
Iron deficiency is the most common and talked about. Haemoglobin is the protein that iron sits in the middle of, and carries oxygen from the lungs to our muscles to the tissues. It’s very important that we have that haemoglobin otherwise people get very tired, lethargic, and may have other symptoms such as blue fingertips in some cases, irritability etc.
Good sources of iron:
Fortified breakfast cereals, both hot and cold
Black strap molasses
Green leafy vegetables
Dried beans, such as black and kidney beans, and lentils
Enriched rice or pasta
Dried fruit, especially raisins
It is a good idea to combine these iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C because C helps your body use iron. For example, you might want to top your spinach salad with grapefruit sections or drink a glass of orange juice as you dig into your fortified cereal in the morning.
B12 anemia will result in stunted nerve growth, numbness or tingling in the legs, toes and fingers, which can also be referred to a neurological condition. Also called pernicious anemia, this type of anemia is due to a lack of vitamin B12 in your diet. This B vitamin plays an important role in making red blood cells. When you read the nutrition labels on packaged foods, look for foods fortified with vitamin B12. Here are some examples of processed foods that contain vitamin B12:
Fortified rice or soy milk
Fortified cereal or grain products
Some meat substitutes (check the labels for vitamin B12)
Dietary supplements, such as those labelled as containing B-complex
You may want to consider taking a natural B12 supplement just in case, you have nothing to lose by doing so.
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Copper deficiency: Copper is an essential mineral for many bodily functions, such as the production of enzymes that help the cells in your body function properly. Copper also is involved in the absorption and use of iron in the body. When copper is deficient in the body, symptoms of iron and copper deficiency become similar to each other. Often when anemia is suspected, health-care providers recommend iron supplementation and don’t consider having you increase your copper intake to correct for anemia. Symptoms include weakness, anemia, skin sores, cholesterol problems, immune system impairment and difficulty with breathing. Copper deficiency is rare but can develop in people who have had malabsorptive surgeries to promote weight loss, infants and children on a high cow’s milk diet and people suffering from Menkes disease. Infants deficient in copper exhibit failure to thrive, which is characterized by low growth in height, pale skin and irregular heart beats. Children born prematurely can experience rapid growth and have an increased need for copper. In adults, osteoporosis and thyroid disorders can result, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Adults who have received total parenteral nutrition, or feeding through the veins, along with people who have had weight-loss surgeries have an increased risk of developing copper deficiency.
Copper can be found in nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, and the germ of grains. Cow’s milk is void of copper and can leach this mineral as well as iron, promoting anemia and deficiency of both minerals.
Folic acid – and B12 are required to help a red blood cell to mature. Folic acid deficiency anemia happens when your body does not have enough folic acid. Folic acid is one of the B vitamins, and it helps your body make new cells, including new red blood cells. Your body needs red blood cells to carry oxygen. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, you have anemia, which can make you feel weak and tired. So it’s important that you get enough folic acid every day. Most people get enough folic acid in the food they eat. But some people either don’t get enough in their diet or have trouble absorbing it from the foods they eat. Pregnant women who do not get enough folic acid are more likely to have babies with very serious birth defects. These include citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, and fortified cereals. You may have a greater need for folic acid, this might happen if you are pregnant or have some medical problems, such as sickle cell disease. If your body doesn’t absorb enough folic acid, this might happen if you drink too much alcohol or have severe kidney problems that require dialysis, or should you be on certain medicines, such as some used for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and seizures.
Feel weak and tired, light headed, forgetful, grouchy, lose your appetite and have trouble concentrating – these may all be symptoms of folic acid deficiency.
Your doctor will examine you and ask questions about your past health and how you are feeling now. You will also have blood tests to check the number of red blood cells and to see if your body has enough folic acid. Please do make a point of finding out if your doctor is a qualified plant based nutritionist. Most are not, and simply prescribe pills. This does not help root out the illness, it simply covers up the cause, and encourages further complications in years to come, besides you don’t want to take pills for the rest of your life.
The level of vitamin B12 will be checked too. Some people whose folic acid levels are too low also have low levels of vitamin B12. The two problems can cause similar symptoms.
So up your greens, bean and fortified foods! The following list will point you in the right direction:
Dark leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce)
Citrus fruits (papaya, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, raspberries)
Beans, peas, lentils (lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, lima beans, split peas, green peas, green beans)
Seeds and nuts (sunflower seeds, peanuts, flax seeds, almonds)
Squash (both winter and summer squash)
Spleen dysfunction – together with the bone marrow are responsible for healthy red blood cell production. The spleen plays an important role in fighting infection. It helps to kill bacteria, and to destroy worn-out or damaged red blood cells and damaged platelets. There are a few reasons why a spleen would need to be removed, including disease, damage, or splenomegaly – enlargement of the spleen. There are ways to help keep your spleen healthy and functioning properly, one of which is a healthy diet. Your spleen is approximately the size of your fist and is tucked up under the left side of your diaphragm. It is an organ that we seldom think about, but its role in fighting infections is vital. Your spleen needs proper nutrition in order to function properly. Your diet can help to keep your spleen healthy.
A well-balanced diet is best for a healthy spleen. Your diet should consist of a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Foods that are organically grown are better for your spleen than non-organic foods. You should also include foods like beetroot, celery, fennel, dill, garlic, kidney beans, parsley, pumpkins and turnips. These foods help to keep your spleen energetic and strong. Eating the wrong foods can de-energize your spleen so that it performs sluggishly.
Vitamin C – Below are some great sources of Vitamin C, which help absorption of iron.
Bell pepper cooked and raw
Vegetable juice cocktail
Brussels sprouts, cooked
Broccoli, raw and cooked
Edible pod peas, cooked
B6 – Vitamin B6 is the primary vitamin for processing amino acids used in production of proteins and is also needed to make a variety of hormones including serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. Vitamin B6 plays a role in a variety of biochemical reactions in the human body including the metabolism of amino acids and glycogen, the synthesis of nucleic acids, hemoglobin, sphingomyelin and other sphingolipids, and the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). While vitamin B6 deficiency is not common in most developed regions of the world, it still occurs. Typical symptoms of vitamin B6 deficiency are microcytic, hypochromic anemia, seizures, dermatitis, confusion, and depression. Vitamin B6 deficiencies in infants are usually demonstrated by electroencephalogram abnormalities and seizures, while in adults B6 deficiency symptoms include chapped and cracked lips, tongue inflammation, stomotitis, anemia, irritability, confusion, and depression. Unfortunately, these symptoms are not limited only to vitamin B6 deficiencies. Vitamin B6 deficiency usually is a result of a malabsorption syndrome, uremia, cancer, cirrhosis, alcoholism, old age, and pregnancy. When taken with folic acid and vitamin B12, vitamin B6 can support healthy homocysteine levels. Abnormal levels of homocysteine have been linked to heart disease and stroke as well as to osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin B6 can be found naturally in a number of foods including:
White potatoes with skins and other vegetable
Soy-based meat substitutes
Legumes (beans, peas,garbanzo beans)
Millions across the globe suffer from anemia today, but this can be avoided when you eat a wide variety of healthy plant based foods daily. Combine your foods that are high in C with foods that are high in iron for better absorption. Omit sugar as much as possible or switch to a healthier form thereof such as black strap molasses. Decrease unhealthy fatty processed foods. Omit animal based foods. Decrease intake of coffee and black tea. Decrease alcohol intake.
You do not need iron from any animal derived product. All of your iron and other nutrients are naturally sourced from a healthy well balanced plant based diet. Take the natural, healthy route rather, together with a supplement of vegan B12 as back up.
Stay healthy, do good to yourselves, do good to others, and do good to the planet always.