Vitamin Deficiency Anemia
The vitamins in our daily diet are immensely important to our overall health and well-being. If we are lacking in the vitamins necessary to keep us healthy, we can wind up with vitamin deficiency anemia, a condition in which our blood is low in oxygenated red blood cells.
Without these blood cells, our body is unable to receive the oxygen it needs to produce energy, and if left untreated, can lead to other health problems, including certain neurological disorders. The goods news is that the effects of vitamin deficiency anemia can usually be corrected by making changes to your diet.
What Causes Vitamin Deficiency Anemia?
Our blood is made up of a liquid called plasma along with three different type of blood cells: white blood cells (fight infection); platelets (responsible for clotting blood to stop bleeding); red blood cells (carry oxygen to organs and tissues; keeps body energized and skin healthy). These latter types of cells are generated by a diet rich in iron, vitamin B-12, folate and vitamin C. Causes of vitamin deficiency anemia include:
- Poor diet. Your diet is profoundly important to ensuring your body gets the vitamins it needs. If your diet is low in meat, fish and dairy products, you could be at risk for a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which in turn puts you at risk for vitamin deficiency anemia. Also, diets lacking in citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables could lead to a folate or vitamin C deficiency, both of which can cause vitamin deficiency anemia.
- Lack of intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is a protein that combines with vitamin B-12 in the stomach so that the vitamin can be carried to the small intestine and absorbed into the bloodstream. Someone lacking in intrinsic factor, therefore, will not be able to carry this vitamin to the blood, causing it to be excreted as waste. This type of anemia is called pernicious anemia. This type of deficiency was previously considered to be fatal before the invention of B-12 injections.
- Tapeworm. A rarely discussed condition, a tapeworm infection is actually quite common, and can be contracted through the consumption of food or water containing tapeworm eggs or larvae. Most people who have tapeworm are unaware of it. The problem is that the tapeworm can absorb the nutrients your body needs, which can lead to vitamin deficiency anemia. The best way to prevent tapeworm is through proper hygiene and limiting exposure to un-sanitized food or water (which commonly occurs during travel to developing countries).
- Intestinal disease. People with intestinal diseases such as Crohn’s or celiac disease may have difficulty absorbing folate.
- Surgery. Certain types of abdominal or intestinal surgery can affect your intrinsic factor production or absorption.
- Certain types of medications. Certain types of medication, including anti-seizure cancer fighting drugs, can lead to vitamin deficiency anemia.
- Chronic alcoholism.
How do I Know I have Vitamin Deficiency Anemia?
The most common sign of a vitamin deficiency is frequent and seemingly unwarranted fatigue. However, other symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia include:
- Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
- Mental confusion or forgetfulness
- Pale skin
- Sore mouth and tongue
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
Who’s At Risk?
Check as many boxes as applies to you:
If one or more of the above-listed criteria applies to you, you could be at risk for vitamin deficiency anemia.
How is it Diagnosed
Vitamin deficiency anemia is diagnosed through a physical exam in which the patient’s neurological capacity and muscle reflexes are tested. Other methods of testing for vitamin deficiency anemia include:
- Blood tests measuring level and appearance of red blood cells as well as levels of folate, vitamin B-12 and vitamin C in the blood
- Antibodies test to check for intrinsic factor
- Bone marrow examination
- Schilling test, which determines where the deficiency in B12 absorption lies.
Left untreated, vitamin deficiency anemia can lead to many health problems, including, neurological damage, scurvy, and in pregnant women, birth defects.
How is Vitamin Deficiency Anemia Treated?
The type of treatment you receive will depend on the underlying cause of your deficiency. For example:
- People with pernicious anemia will require lifelong therapy of vitamin B-12 injections.
- Those with anemia caused by a vitamin B-12 deficiency should take vitamin supplements, combined with an increase in foods rich in the vitamin such as eggs, meat and dairy.
- If mal-absorption of vitamins is causing the problem, vitamin injections may be prescribed until the condition improves.
- Folate and vitamin C deficiencies can also be treated through vitamin supplements and changes in diet.