EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW
ABOUT ANEMIA, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK
The term "Anemia" is almost as broad as the Grand Canyon. But generally speaking, Anemia is defined as having.....
- A DECREASED NUMBER OF RED BLOOD CELLS: Red Blood Cells (RBC's) carry oxygen. Enough said.
- A DECREASED AMOUNT OF HEMOGLOBIN: Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein found in RBC's that attaches itself to oxygen in order to transport it throughout the body.
- A DIMINISHED ABILITY TO CARRY OXYGEN: O2 (OXYGEN) is vital for numerous bodily functions and general metabolism. A few minutes without it and you are dead -- or at least brain damaged.
Although there are many different kinds of Anemia, all of them will fit into one or the other of these categories. As you can imagine, anything that decreases your body's ability to carry Oxygen throughout the body is ultimately going to cause problems --- serious problems. Oxygen is needed by the MITOCHONDRIA to produce something called ATP -- the body's ultimate source of energy. As far as symptoms are concerned, there are many. Some of the most common include....
- WEAKNESS / LOSS OF ENERGY / FEELING LIKE YOU ARE GOING TO PASS OUT
- CONFUSION / DIFFICULTY CONCENTRATING
- SHORTNESS OF BREATH (worse with exertion)
- RAPID HEARTBEAT (worse with exertion)
- HEADACHE (worse with exertion)
- LEG CRAMPS
- PALE SKIN (this is a later sign) / INABILITY TO REGULATE BODY TEMPERATURE
The most common kind of Anemia is that of iron-deficiency, and there are several reasons this might happen. Some of the most common include.....
- LACK OF DIETARY IRON: Good sources of iron include meat (beef, poultry, fish) and green leafy vegetables. Be aware that dietary iron comes in two forms --- heme (from animal products) and non-heme (not from animal products). Heme iron is far better-absorbed than non-heme. Another reason I am not typically a fan of VEGAN DIETS. Also, be warned that when it comes to supplementing with iron, one needs to be careful. Iron Toxicity can be just as big a problem (sometimes bigger) as Iron Deficiency.
- CHRONIC BLOOD LOSS: This could be due to any number of health issues including FEMALE PROBLEMS, ULCERS, CANCER, ASPIRIN, hemorrhoids, etc.
- PREGNANCY: Although only 2-3% of men are iron-deficient, for women that number is 1 in 5. It goes up to 50% if you are pregnant.
- POOR IRON ABSORPTION: I talk at length on this website about the importance of having a HEALTHY GUT. When INFLAMMATION attacks your Gut, you can forget about properly absorbing nutrients --- all nutrients, including iron. Of course, one of the most common reasons for this Inflammation are food-sensitivities, of which the most common of these are wheat (GLUTEN) and dairy. This is why Pernicious Anemia is seen so commonly in people with things like Crohn's Disease, IBS, STOMACH STAPLING (not necessarily an "inflammatory" problem, but a problem nonetheless), and CELIAC DISEASE. Always remember that when it comes to absorbing VITAMINS & MINERALS, you must have STRONG STOMACH ACID. Vitamin C is critical to this process as well.
- PARASITES: That bastion of truth, Wikipedia, tells us that, "The leading cause of iron deficiency worldwide is infestation with parasitic worms (helminths such as tapeworms, flukes, and roundworms). The World Health Organization estimates that approximately two billion people are infected with soil-transmitted helminths worldwide. Parasitic worms cause both inflammation and chronic blood loss." Americans think that parasites only happen to people in other countries. Unfortunately, they are wrong. One of these days, I will get around to doing the large post on parasites that I have been thinking about.
Pernicious Anemia (sometimes referred to as Megaloblastic Anemia) is not only itself an AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE, but is intimately associated with numerous other Autoimmune Diseases as well (HERE is a list of some of the more common ones). For reasons that are not completely understood (HERE is the most current thought process on the topic) the body will start making antibodies against certain parts of the stomach --- either the parietal cells themselves or the "Intrinsic Factor" made by the parietal cells. Intrinsic factor is a protein needed to absorb Vitamin B-12; and B-12 is needed for many bodily functions, including the body's ability to make blood cells (B-12 is also vital for general metabolism, DNA synthesis, as well as brain and nervous system function). Be sure to remember that the parietal cells of the stomach make both stomach acid and intrinsic factor.
When your own body pulls search and destroy missions against the stomach's parietal cells, a number of really bad things happen besides the propensity for developing Pernicious Anemia. First and foremost among these is that your body slows down (or even stops) its production of Stomach Acid (HCl -- Hydrochloric Acid). Mayo Clinic puts it this way: "Pernicious Anemia patients suffer from gastric mucosal atrophy, most likely caused by a destructive autoimmune process. This results in diminished or absent gastric acid, pepsin and intrinsic factor production."
Despite the fact that we are bombarded with drug advertisements telling us that most of our stomach problems are the result of too much stomach acid or acid that is too strong, this is about as far from the truth as one can get. The reality is that numerous digestive problems are caused by too little or too weak stomach acid (HERE). Believe me when I tell you that too little stomach acid is a serious problem, and far more common than the opposite.
Furthermore, there is a strong relationship between Pernicious Anemia and Gut Flora. Listen once more to the National Institutes of Health on this matter as to what causes Pernicious Anemia. "Too many of the wrong kind of bacteria in the small intestine. This is a common cause of pernicious anemia in older adults. The bacteria use up the available vitamin B12 before the small intestine can absorb it. Certain medicines will alter bacterial growth or prevent the small intestine from properly absorbing vitamin B12. Examples include antibiotics and certain diabetes and seizure medicines." I have talked about ANTIBIOTICS, DYSBIOSIS, and DIABETES at length. Hopefully you got the memos that you should not be taking them except in life and death situations.
Listen to this quote that was cherry picked from an article Aglaée Jacob wrote for the February 2013 issue of Today's Dietitian (Gut Health and Autoimmune Disease — Research Suggests Digestive Abnormalities May Be the Underlying Cause).
Autoimmune conditions such as RA tend to run in families, and many of these conditions seem to start in the gut. Autoimmune conditions are chronic and can affect every organ in the body, crossing almost all medical specialties, including gastroenterology, cardiology, neurology, rheumatology, gynecology, dermatology, and endocrinology.
In fact, autoimmune diseases are now among the top 10 leading causes of death in American women under the age of 65. Emerging research shows that most autoimmune conditions may share a common root hiding in the intestinal lining of individuals with autoimmune diseases, even years before the symptoms manifest.
The intestinal bacterial flora of patients with pernicious anemia has long attracted the interest of investigators.... The implication of intestinal flora in the pathogenesis of pernicious anemia began with the intestinal-toxin theories of William Hunter in 1888....
Just remember that when dealing with Pernicious Anemia, you will have to manage it as you would any other Autoimmune Disease. HERE is a starting point. Depending on the severity, you may need to get B-12 shots as well. My suggestion, however, as far as which B-12 supplement to take is simple. Stick with WHOLE FOOD NUTRITION AND SUPPLEMENTS --- particularly when it comes to THE B VITAMINS. Although you might need the drug-like effect of more "potent" products for awhile, this is not your best bet over the long haul --- particularly when you realize that without proper amounts of intrinsic factor, B-12 absorption rates hover at 1-2%.
Also be aware that in order to lick this problem, you'll have to understand the relationship between your stomach's parietal cells, intrinsic factor, and acid levels (HERE). By healing your Gut, you have a better chance at slowing down your own body's autoimmune attack on your stomach. As your parietal cells heal, you will be better able to make the acid needed for proper digestion, as well as the intrinsic factor needed to absorb B-12. Oh; and one more thing to keep in mind; our own government's NIH has warned that, "strict vegetarians who don't eat any animal or dairy products and don't take a vitamin B12 supplement are at risk for pernicious anemia." One more reason I am a fan of the PALEO DIET.