Understanding Anemia

Affecting almost 3.5 million Americans, anemia is the most common blood condition in the US — it develops when blood lacks enough healthy red cells. Because these cells are the main carriers of oxygen to the body’s organs, fatigue is usually the most common indicator, but symptoms may also include pale skin, fast or irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, and cold hands/feet. Causes of anemia include:

Iron deficiency. If red blood cells are deficient in hemoglobin, your body isn’t getting enough iron, the manufacturer of hemoglobin.

Vitamin deficiencies. Folate and B-12 are also essential to forming red blood cells, so a diet low in either can bring on anemia. Some people can’t absorb B-12, making them more susceptible.

Sickle cell. This trait causes red blood cells to take on a sickle shape that can block the flow of blood. These cells also die prematurely, causing a shortage.

Chronic disease. Cancer, Crohn’s, HIV/AIDs, rheumatoid arthritis, and other illnesses can deplete cells or interfere with their production.

You can avoid iron or vitamin deficiency anemia by eating foods rich in:

Iron. Meats, beans, lentils, spinach, and other dark leafy greens are good sources.

Folate. Get it from citrus fruits, bananas, legumes, and fortified breads or cereals.

Vitamin B-12. Meat and dairy products contain this important nutrient.

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